Friday, June 22, 2007

The Spin Makes Our Heads Swim

The Washington Post continues its love fest for the so-called "Fiscal Wake-Up Tour", Comptroller General David Walker's traveling troupe of the "sky-is-falling-we-must-cut-entitlements" think tankers. Here's an excerpt from Thursday's article:

"The numbers make Joseph Farrell's head swim. Billions and trillions of dollars, numbers too immense to comprehend."
Of course they are. That's the whole point of lumping together Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security in these presentations, even though the challenges facing each program are as different as the solutions. Let's be honest, the numbers just wouldn't be as incomprehensible or scary if we talked about Social Security (a retirement program facing long term issues) and Medicare/Medicaid (healthcare programs facing a more immediate crisis in concert with a national healthcare crisis) on their own terms. This shock and awe approach is clearly not designed to provide solutions. In fact it appears the end result is just the opposite:

"I knew there was a problem, but I didn't realize it was this bad," Farrell,25, marveled after a recent presentation at the University of South Florida, from which he is to graduate in August. "I didn't realize there was no solution in sight. My taxes are going to be huge."

No solutions in sight? You've got to be kidding. Is that really the message being left by these Paul Reveres for reform? There are scores of Social Security reform options out there. Some more politically viable than others. Here's just one example from Robert Ball, Social Security Commissioner under Presidents Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon. A simple Google search will lead you to countless more.

As for Medicare, here's an obvious solution offered yet again by Congressional Budget Office Director Peter health care reform. You can link to video of his testimony Thursday before the Senate Budget Committee and Congressional Quarterly's coverage. He said:

“The rate at which health care costs grow relative to income is the most important determinant of the long-term fiscal balance; it exerts a significantly larger influence on the budget over the long term than other commonly cited factors, such as the aging of the population.”

In other words, the President's claim that aging baby-boomers are sucking the nation dry through sky-rocketing entitlements does not tell the whole tale. But it certainly makes great headlines.

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