The Corner

Tea Partiers Aren’t Ready to Tackle Entitlements?

If this report from the New York Times is accurate, then Mark Steyn needs to ratchet up his “complacency watch” rhetoric. According to the Times, the good tea-partying folks at FreedomWorks “crowdsourced” a deficit-reduction plan with more than 40,000 activists. The resulting estimated savings ($6 trillion over ten years) sound impressive, but not only are some of the numbers vague (how much savings will we garner from Obamacare repeal without substantial Medicare reform?), within the story was this ominous note:

When it comes to cutting Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, the report said visitors to the site were “more cautious,” and “prefer reductions in peripheral elements,” like tightening eligibility for Social Security disability payments and reducing subsidies to teaching hospitals.

Let’s break this down as simply as possible: If there is no significant entitlement reform — especially to our health care entitlements — we’re facing fiscal disaster. We can close the Department of Energy, end foreign aid, dangerously cut defense, and shutter the Department of Education, but unless we figure out a way to control and moderate trillions of dollars of transfers directly into the pockets of, well, the nation’s most faithful voting blocs, we’re just delaying the inevitable. Consider this, from the Heritage Foundation:

In June, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) updated its budget projections for the next 25 years, providing policymakers with some context of the size of the federal debt. The office’s conclusion: The budget outlook is “daunting.”

The CBO analysts are gloomy with reason. Post-war federal spending has averaged about 20.5 percent of gross domestic product (GDP). By 2035, mandatory federal health spending (Medicare, Medicaid, and the exchange subsidies) and Social Security are estimated to be at least 15 percent of GDP, which will bring total federal spending to more than 27 percent of GDP.  Medicare alone is expected to account for 6.7 percent of GDP in 2035, surpassing Social Security and defense spending as the largest federal program.

If our own core conservative activists aren’t on board with serious entitlement reform, how can we expect politicians to transform the budget? As much fun as it is to obsess over the election (and, believe me, I’m obsessing), the real battle is cultural. Decades of entitlements have transformed the relationship between citizen and state to such an extent that even our own conservative base can’t quite seem to bring itself to make the truly hard choices.  

When it comes to changing hearts and minds, we’ve got a long — very long — way to go.  In the race between public awareness and fiscal collapse, I fear that awareness is losing, badly.

David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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