- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 29, 2010

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Before what one writer referred to as “the lamest-duck ever” turned into a flurry of frantic negotiations and bill signings, we were having a fairly sustained national debate about the deficit commission’s recommendations.

However much we individually think the tax deal, “don’t ask, don’t tell” (DADT) and New START will affect our lives, one thing clearly will affect all of us together: America’s long-term fiscal crisis, which will raise our taxes, depress our incomes and wreak havoc on our children’s economic future. Sen. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican, raised this issue in apocalyptic terms over the weekend on Fox News, and good for him. We need honest, no-frills public leadership on the issue.

In the spirit of the holidays, it might be worth taking Mr.Coburn’s words to heart and asking ourselves as citizens a difficult question: How much is each of us willing to give up to fix the problem?

The reason we all should all be asking ourselves this question is because the only way out of our fiscal mess will require most of us to change our expectations and behaviors. Don’t believe any politician who tells you we can “save Social Security” or “preserve Medicare“without your having to give up anything - especially the younger you are.

If you have a 10-year-old child, the national debt was 33 percent of gross domestic product when he or she was 1 year old. It’s now at 62 percent, and when your child is in college 10 years from now trying to figure out which career to choose, the debt will be at 90 percent. Let’s hope all of our kids are as brilliant as we think they are, because they’ll need to be really rich just to get by.

Without reform, the main drivers of the problem, Social Security and Medicare, will require your children’s blood, sweat and tears before betraying them in the end. By the time your 10-year-old turns 16 and gets the keys to the car, Social Security will be paying out more than it is taking in. By the time he or she turns 37, Social Security will be exhausted unless payroll taxes go up 31 percent or benefits are cut by 24 percent. And your dear child will still have to work for 30 years before getting a measly Social Security check that will make a joke of all the taxes he or she paid all those years.

With regard to Medicare, suffice it to say that it cost taxpayers eight times more than its creators predicted in its first 25 years, and in the next 25 years - as your 10-year-old reaches his or her mid-30s - its share of the U.S. economy will triple. It is much bigger in dollar outlays than Social Security, so its power to crush the economy cannot be understated.

Your 10-year-old is in what William Beach and Dustin Siggins at the Heritage Foundation have termed “the Debt-Paying Generation.” Not the Greatest Generation. Not something cool-sounding like the Boomer Generation or Millennial Generation or Gen-X. No, these children are the debt-payers. That’s their calling. How miserable.

So let’s get back to the question: What are we willing to give up to fix the problem?

If you are younger than 40, are you willing to work until you’re 70? When you hit 70, would you be willing to live with the equivalent of an annual payment of $11,000 for your health care, which Rep. Paul Ryan, Wisconsin Republican, has proposed, rather than the current (unsustainable) Medicare practice of paying whatever health care you consume at whatever prices the government sets? Would you be willing to commit about half of your payroll taxes into a savings account and use those funds to help with retirement rather than hope there are enough younger workers to support you when you’re old (the current Social Security practice)? Are you willing to live with Social Security and Medicare programs that take care of people the poorer they are, and less so the richer they are? And finally, are you willing to save more of your already-tight disposable income to help offset whatever Social Security and Medicare don’t give you?

If your answer to all of these questions is yes and Congress turned your yes into law, we would fix these ballooning entitlements and make America the same country for your kids that people told you it was when you were their age. I would argue that most healthy people younger than 55 should be able to answer yes to these questions, too. If they would, we could fix things even faster.

I have no confidence in Democrats to lead on this issue. It’s far too heretical for their old-time religious faith in social welfare. I have a little more confidence in Republicans, but even they - as a whole - need more courage. But I have faith in us - the people - to tell all of them that we will do our part to fix this mess we’re in. And then maybe they will follow, even if they don’t have the courage to lead.

By the way, full disclosure: I am 41, and my children are 12 and 9. And I answer yes to all the questions. I hope others will join.

Ryan Streeter is editor of ConservativeHome.com and director of fiscal studies at the Sagamore Institute.

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