Tuesday, November 09, 2004

A Hard Question: Entitlement Reform, Aging Population, Old People and NASA

Disclaimer: Again, here is the last in my three part series on party positions and footholds the Democrats should rethink in the wake of Election 2004. As I said before, I don't think there is a need for the Dems to radically remake themselves, simply that some of the party's dogma, which in my mind has already been slipping and come under attack recently in the party, should be rethought, recast, or discarded. This piece partially relates to yesterday's piece on how Dem's may want to move away from a party that back federal interventions and federal superiority, to one of advocating decentralization and a balance in favor of state and local government (as the Republicans once did). Today, I attack the biggest chunk of the federal government: Entitlement Programs.

Social Security. Medicare. Welfare. Housing Vouchers. Unemployment Benefits. These words provoke the same reaction in Conservatives that crosses do to vampires. To the American People, they provoke the reaction of a homeowner who finds their pet has just relieved themselves all over the carpet. To my generation, they will be our undoing. Howard Dean, in the early days of his Democratic Insurgency, brought up the heretical, but SANE, position that we might want to think about means-testing Social Security. Boy did the AARP not like that. My own recommendation for Social Security and Medicare, namely giving NASA the new mission of launching old people into space to their doom, doesn't have much traction. But the Democratic notion that Social Security and Medicare can simply be left untampered is absurd. Bush's fiscally titanic disaster of a Medicare reform was the wrong direction. Heritage Foundation has some constructive ideas, as they always do with entitlement reform. So does GAO. I won't bring up the fact that Heritage suggested using the FEHBP for a model to offer poor people health insurance, then when Senator Kerry listened to them they suddenly became opposed to the idea. But of course their work is 90% partisan-hackery and 10% really great Conservative ideas.

The overall picture is, of course, that entitlement programs are doomed in their current form. Not only will this doom the people they are meant to help, but the government itself and all of the American taxpayers if nothing is done. Bush has charged into the fray with Social Security reform, and, surprise, the AARP couldn't stop him. Needless to say, they're probably just waiting until the legislation hits before they walk softly and unleash their armored tank division. But the very fact that someone had the boldness to defy this lobby and got away with it so far should embolden every politician. Entitlement reform isn't a conservative issue, it isn't a liberal issue, it's a common sense issue. We can't afford it, no matter how you crunch the numbers, there is a drastic need for drastic action. For that reason, it's time for Democrats to grow a spine and make the changes needed to save these programs that have been part of their legacy. Not only are the Republicans slowly stealing their thunder, but they are also pushing bold and creative ideas that the Democrats are totally lacking in. That needs to change.

To Democrats I say this. It's time the party position did not become "let's stick to our guns" when entitlement reform comes up. Your guns are out of ammo. And your guns are rusting out. Social Security privatization, means-testing, anything! Medicare FEHBP based reform, hell the Kerry health plan based on the FEHBP wasn't a bad idea, but it just wasn't sold well and wasn't very well thought-out! Democrats once assembled the intestinal fortitude to go along with reforming one of the most embarassing entitlement programs, Aid for Families with Dependent Children (Welfare). . .although against the wishes of insane looney lefties like Nancy Pelosi. They can do it again. Bush is going to present partial Social Security Privatization, probably the biggest entitlement reform of ALL TIME, and if the Democrats turn this into a battle to keep social security the way it is they're going to play into the R's hands and again become a tired party of the past. I'm not saying they should vote for the partial privatization. I would be for it but I just think Bush has left the government in such a fiscal shambles we can't afford it without raising taxes. But it's time for the D's to raise at least a counter-proposal.

And this is only the beginning. Democrats need to fall on the right side (maybe even the conservative side) of these entitlement programs if they want to preserve them. Marketization, privatization, and downright CUTS need to be contemplated and pushed by the Democrats. Not only does this make them proactive, but it keeps them from fighting one of the most unwinnable battles on the political landscape now. My generation will be taxed and destroyed by entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare if nothing is done. If the Democrats want Young Voters, then they need to stop mindlessly carrying the AARP standard, especially when a good portion of seniors actually voted Republican in 2004. Entitlement programs are a no-win situation, and if the Democrats can squeeze the credibility and rejuvenation out of welfare reform from other entitlement reforms, they should make every move to do so.