The deficit dilemma: government benefits have become property rights

Robert Samuelson of the Washington Post has written an excellent analysis of our spending and deficit dilemma. In the column,”Supersized government,” he notes why it is so hard to find the public — or political — will to cut benefits and government spending that is driving our nation to bankruptcy. It’s due to “a new morality. Government benefits, once conferred, cannot be revoked.”

Samuelson continues: “…Just as government cannot randomly confiscate property, it cannot withdraw benefits without violating a moral code. The old-fashioned idea that government policies should serve the “national interest” has given way to inertia and squatters’ rights.”

This new morality code is a key reason that the deficit commission, chaired by Sen. Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles, is already being tossed aside by Congress, which, right or left, protects “the morality” of its pet spending projects. This is distressing that we seem to lack the will to end “moral spending” such as the mortgage tax deduction, or food stamps for middle-class college students, or unrealistic expectations of Medicare or Social Security, or federal union benefits that don’t include the shared sacrifice private sector workers practice.

Samuelson points out the obvious; we can’t demand smaller deficits while loudly clinging to all existing benefits, which, distressingly, pols are too scared to cut. Here’s how Samuelson ends the column: “We need a new public philosophy that acknowledges these realities. Perhaps Bowles-Simpson will start the needed conversation. Government will be big, offending conservatives. But it also should be limited, offending liberals. The social contract will be rewritten either by design or, as in Europe, under outside pressures. If we keep the expedient morality of perpetual programs — so that nothing fundamental can ever be abandoned — then Europe’s social unrest could be a prelude to our own.”

To read the column, click here

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5 Responses to The deficit dilemma: government benefits have become property rights

  1. TV says:

    “Samuelson points out the obvious; we can’t demand smaller deficits while loudly clinging to all existing benefits.”

    And Samuelson did NOT point out the (equally) obvious; we can’t demand smaller deficits while loudly clinging to all existing (tax cuts, paricularly those that go to the wealthiest Americans who can well afford the price tag.)

  2. Daniel Zappala says:

    What TV said.

    It’s patently obvious to most people that if they need to balance a budget they can either increase income or decrease spending. The obvious compromise is to raise taxes somewhat and decrease spending somewhat. Instead, Congress and the President are preparing to “compromise” by both cutting taxes and increasing spending. How dumb can they be?

  3. Bob Becker says:

    What Dan Zappala said.

  4. Midwinter says:

    What everyone above me said.

    God, our politics drives me up the friggin’ wall.

  5. Abby Bean says:

    When will the government look to cut spending in its own house before coming into mine? Are government employees paying more for health insurance/gas/groceries? Are they losing their jobs? I’m waiting for the administration to go over spending LINE by LINE and hold some accountability for mis-spent funds. Every day there is more ridiculous waste reported. The latest: hundreds of millions of dollars being paid in income tax returns to prisoners. Let’s say we get that money back before taking more from the middle class who abides by the law.

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