Yes, let's divert attention from the real issue, as politicians and their hacks are known to do:
This campaign strategy won't stop huge Democratic losses in a year when the economy is the dominant issue, but it surely will reinforce Republican fears that the deficit commission is nothing but a political trap. Mr. Obama wants the GOP to support entitlement reforms in exchange for tax increases, but when they do he'll pocket the revenue and slam the GOP for the entitlement "cuts."
If you read the rest of the article, you'll find not one peep about where the real problem lies.
Oh, don't get me wrong. Social Security is huge mess, not the least of which was caused by administrations on both sides of the aisle post-Grace Commission literally stealing the tax revenue and spending it, but at the same time refusing to consolidate the liability on the government balance sheet.
Only in government is such a thing legal. In the private sector games such as this lead to "instant indictment (and lawsuits) - just add lawyer."
But in the government sector keeping two sets of books isn't only not a criminal act, it's how government does business. And while it's bad in the Social Security arena, the real problem is with Medicare - a program that The Right - that is, George W Bush - radically expanded.
See, Social Security will run out of (alleged) bonds to redeem in 2039, or whatever it is this year. Those bonds, of course, aren't really bonds - if they were you could sell them anywhere. But you can't sell them to anyone but Treasury, and Treasury has no money. So to "redeem" or "sell" those bonds Treasury is going to have to issue some new ones in exactly equal amount into the public market, and who knows what the rate of interest will be that will be demanded on those.
(ed: Of course government could promote a stock market crash to scare everyone into government bonds when necessary, or even worse, do things that might tread awfully close to the line of confiscating private retirement accounts and forcing them into Treasuries. Oh wait - we have seen that before and have heard rumors of it in the future, haven't we? Keep your eyes open on this one - it's coming.)
But while Social Security will formally go "into the red" within a few years on a continual basis, and thus be an immediate and permanent contributor to formal budget deficits (as opposed to off-balance-sheet ones, where it has been operating now for a couple of decades) the real mess is coming in Medicare - which is being intentionally ignored.
Simply put, there's no way we can fund what was promised with Medicare. We can manage to find ways to do it with Social Security - the simplest is not to remove the cap on tax payments, as doing so would cause the indexing to move up (negating much of the benefit.) No, the simplest is to raise the retirement age. While Social Security is simply a tax and entitlement (that is, a welfare benefit) on a legal basis, if you try to get rid of it Granny will likely reach for her shotgun. It is the "don't let them do that" meme that the Democrats have used for last 20 years to instead hide the truth - that is, bluntly, to lie about how Social Security is (or in this case is not) funded.
But Medicare is an insoluble problem. We simply cannot, as a matter of public policy, give every older person who needs one a new hip. Nor can we afford hundreds of thousands of dollars per-person for treatment of obesity-related diseases (primarily cancer and diabetes and their complications) and other similar maladies - some of which are products of old age, but many of which are products of lifestyle choices.
The simple fact of the matter is that we have to have a very public debate over exactly what sort of medical backstop you're entitled to from our society, with the facts and figures laid out. This must become immediately self-funding, and that debate then has to result in tax and spending policy, with hard enforcement created by an absolute bar on cost-shifting and budgetary games as are currently played by Congress. That is, Medicare has to be entirely isolated and self-funded - with no outside Congressional support - and no ability to either raid the funds or supplant them.
We either do this or within the next 20 years it will blow up in our face as the Boomers both retire and become sicker. Trying to "bend the curve" by limiting reimbursements to doctors won't do it. The simple fact of the matter is that we are technologically capable of doing things in the medical trade that we cannot pay for when it comes to providing them to everyone. We can either ration by price or ration by scarcity, but we cannot avoid rationing of these expensive medical treatments and remedies.
I prefer to ration by price but my preference in this regard is "soft." What I find unacceptable is the incessant lying by our government, and others including medical practitioners, in the making of the claim that we can avoid the rationing entirely.
That simply can't happen.
The average person earns $2.25 million in his or her lifetime - before taxes. One man in two will get cancer in his lifetime, one in three women. Many of those cancers are easily-treated and reasonably-inexpensive, but a whole lot of them are not - they're insanely expensive whether you survive the disease or not. Other chronic conditions are similarly expensive.
It is, in fact, quite easy to run up a medical bill that exceeds the entire earnings potential of the average American during his or her lifetime. Note that this is before tax and actual living expenses, so this is in fact a bill that is at least three times, and likely four or five times, actual disposable income.
We can't cover that folks.
This is not about compassion, it is about math.
We have (once again) written checks with our mouths that we cannot cash with our hands and minds, and yet we refuse to talk about it and have a frank discussion as Americans about where the line truly has to be - and what we will accept as Americans in order to move it from where it is now - the impossible - to where it will wind up.
Yes, I know this is the "Third Rail" of American Politics - even more so than Social Security.
But whether we want to step on it or not, that light you see in the distance is, in fact, a train.