It’s the Entitlements, Stupid!

I know the title to this blog entry is a ripoff from James Carville’s famous sign above the door to Clinton election headquarters back in 1992, but it has relevance to the budget campaign currently locked in predictable gridlock in Washington. The principals in Congress and the White House are debating the wisdom or insanity of the $ 85 billion across the board cuts in discretionary spending as they deal with the requirements of the sequester deal. President Obama warns of ” dire consequences”, while Senator Rand Paul claims that “it’s the least we can do.”

But while the “gridlockers” fight it out and wait for someone to blink, the real issue is not discretionary spending, the part of the budget that can be cut, but the entitlement menu of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid that are the real budget busters. There was once talk of a grand bargain that would address the entitlements, but that fell by the wayside as the Obama-Boehner working relationship fell into disarray and distrust. Now all we have before us is a disharmonious debate over basically chump change, while the real budget culprits keep piling up debt.

In this toxic climate it is just too much to ask for statesmen or stateswomen to step forward and form a working compromise that pleases no one but begins to address the budget busters. The two partisan sides are so mistrustful and ornery that what we will have to deal with is another dose of brinkmanship and showmanship as our elected officials play political games.

It is not like the answers for entitlement reform are absent from the national conversation. The Simpson-Bowles Commission laid out reasonable but difficult options to deal with entitlements. No one would be happy, sacrifices would have to be made, people would have to dig deeper or delay retirement plans. But the country would begin to address the true sources of our economic and financial maladies. Making air traffic controllers go on furlough along with FBI and Border Patrol agents is not just bad policy, it is plain and simple stupid.

Maybe one of these days this black cloud of partisan suspicion and pettiness will come to an end, but ill-conceived across the board cuts with no method for dealing with the real problem programs just continues the now familiar process of kicking the can down the road.

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