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U.S. debt ceiling talks avoid the harsh reality: Federal entitlement programs must end

U.S. debt ceiling talks avoid the harsh reality: Federal entitlement programs must end

Wayne Hoffman
May 20, 2023

U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy has said that including additional work requirements for able-bodied people with no dependents is a "red line" in negotiations with the White House to raise the debt ceiling. It’s breathtakingly incompetent that this is the centerpiece of congressional Republicans' action plan. What the congressional leaders and your state elected officials won’t tell you is that America’s economic day of reckoning is upon us, and it’s going to take more — a lot more — to get us back on track. 

Hard as it may be to say it, making people work to get benefits has been tried for years and always fails. It hasn’t gotten us anywhere except deeper in debt, more people expecting government aid, a rapid decline in community support networks, and politicians justifying all of it because of flimsy “sideboards” they’ve placed on programs. 

Equally bothersome is that insisting on work requirements cedes important philosophical ground regarding entitlements: They’re socialist, and they destroy family and community bonds that must exist in order to retain our basic human compassion for our neighbors, elders, and the downtrodden. 

The real conversation that needs to be had 一 in Washington, D.C., and state capitols everywhere 一 is what it will take to end expensive and dependency-breeding government entitlement programs like Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, and food stamps. These programs are devastating to the national economy, to the people who now rely on them as much as they rely on food and water, and are consuming vast amounts of government spending. 

Medicare and Medicaid alone comprise $1.5 trillion dollars in federal spending. Government spending on national defense, an actual obligation of the federal government, is less than half that amount. Medicaid, a partnership between federal and state governments that started out in support of the poor and disabled but now extends to able-bodied childless adults, is now the biggest program in Idaho government — bigger than education, as it is in other states. 

Simply put, the Republicans in Congress who ought to have our backs on free-market economics and have instead taken the easy way out by defending these programs, even to the point of skirmishing with President Biden when he said, in his State of the Union address, that Republicans want to end Medicare and Social Security. “Oh no, Joe, we don’t want to do that. You’re lying!” they cried. What they should have said, with courage and conviction, is, “Yes, these programs are bleeding us dry.” 

Republicans speak and act in fear because they want votes. They want to stay in office more than they want to solve the central problems of American solvency. They’re afraid of angering a segment of the population for whom these programs are intensely popular, upon whose votes they depend. But the adults in the room also understand that these programs are destroying America’s economic security. Such programs necessarily require the manufacturing of dollars out of thin air to maintain them, which makes your dollar worth less with every single turn of the government monetary printing press. 

Devaluing the currency, driving up prices, and making it more difficult for families to survive is the tradeoff. Politicians depend on people not knowing what caused this mess in the first place. Because Americans are primarily educated in government schools, they don’t easily connect the fact that their “free” health care means it costs a lot more for everything, be it a gallon of milk or the family home. This is a problem entirely made from government largess, and it never ends well, as history has taught us again and again. 

Many of the people reading this will be upset. How dare I challenge the system that you’ve been paying into your entire life? For Medicare and Social Security, somehow or another, the United States government is going to have to ensure that people get the money they’ve paid into the programs. But going forward, these programs will need to be eliminated. This would restore some semblance of fiscal sanity to Washington, D.C., stop the bleeding on the treasury and the U.S. dollar, and help restore Americans’ concern for one another. 

It’s important to recognize as well that Americans would have been much better off investing and saving their own money than being taxed to sustain these programs. Moreover, every time Americans are promised that the system will be “reformed,” it always results in higher taxes and deferred benefits. 

It’s doubtful that Congress will come anywhere close to addressing this problem in a meaningful way. At least not now. Not when the conversation rests with, "We will defend these programs and maybe put a work requirement in place." That is why it is more important than ever for state governments to do their part. There are no laws that require states to continue participating in Medicaid or Food Stamps. End them both for the sake of the country.

That's a hard thing to do. Saving a country from financial ruin is hard. But it must be done.

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