- - Thursday, August 9, 2018


The worrisome disconnect between Americans of differing views is far more than just a battle of ideologies. Increasingly, the issue is not merely Democrat against Republican, or liberal against conservative. The divide now appears to be reality vs. magical thinking.

America endures a $21 trillion national debt and adds to it with substantial annual deficits each year. Key existing social programs such as Social Security and Medicare are heading toward bankruptcy. The American Society of Civil Engineers rates the national infrastructure as only D+. Growing threats from abroad require significant increases in defense spending.

Despite that, a bevy of astronomically expensive programs are being seriously proposed, unhinged from all fiscal practicality. Politicians, of course, have always been free with absurd promises that they know can’t be kept, but the current crop of unaffordable ideas is gaining serious traction. The 2010 passage of Obamacare leads many to believe that further massive social programs can be enacted, if there are sufficient votes in Congress. Financial responsibility is considered almost inappropriate to mention.

Questions about affordability are responded to with a simplistic call to raise taxes. But there is no effective way to pay for these things by increasing taxes. There is not enough income to be taxed at levels which would not destroy the economy. An attempt to do so would chase businesses and jobs out of the country, ultimately producing less, not more, Treasury collections.

In essence, tax increases are like Harry Potter’s magic wand. Don’t try to find the logic in it, just accept the magic.

Consider some of the more salient unaffordable ideas currently in vogue.

Bernie Sanders is advocating a “Medicare for all” plan. It would cost $32.6 Trillion, at a time when the current Medicare plan paid for by seniors throughout their prior working life is nearing bankruptcy. Aside from the affordability factor, it will not actually improve either the availability of health care for all or the quality of it. Olga Khazan, writing in The Atlantic notes: “Tim Jost, emeritus professor at the Washington and Lee University School of Law, reports that ‘Between 80 to 85 percent of Americans are already covered by health insurance, and most of them are happy with what they’ve got.’ It’s true that single payer would help extend coverage to those who are currently uninsured. But policy makers could already do that by simply expanding Medicaid or providing larger subsidies to low-income Americans.”

Free college tuition is an idea passionately advocated by many, especially young adults burdened with debts from unjustifiably high tuition for an education that failed to secure them a well-paying job. New York’s governor, Andrew Cuomo, has announced a plan to provide free college tuition. Residents of his state are already taxed at a rate that chases people and businesses out. Where will the funds come from?

Extending free medical care and free tuition to U.S. citizens would be fiscally impossible, so why not provide those goodies to illegal immigrants as well? Examining the impact of California’s inclusion of illegals in the state’s generous benefits, the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIRUS) reports: “The annual expenditure of state and local tax dollars on services for that population is $25.3 billion. That total amounts to a yearly burden of about $2,370 for a household headed by a U.S. citizen.”

One myth advocated by the free tuition, open borders and Medicare-for-all crowd, often unstated in public but discussed with the like-minded, is that drastic cuts in defense spending would finance these concepts. It’s time to do the math again. Defense accounts for only about 14 percent of the total federal budget, and the world isn’t getting any safer.

But don’t worry. A wave of the magic wand of idealism will take care of all that.

Frank Vernuccio Jr. is editor in chief of the New York Analysis of Policy and Government.

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