Don’t look now, said James Kwak in TheAtlantic.com, but President Obama and the Democrats just sabotaged the future of Medicare and Social Security. The recent deal to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff was hailed as a victory for Obama, because he forced Republicans to accept a higher tax rate on households making more than $450,000 a year. But the deal permanently locks in the Bush tax cuts on the other 98 percent of households, depriving the government of trillions in revenue over a decade and ensuring massive deficits for years to come. That will inevitably lead to what conservatives call “starving the beast”—creating irresistible pressure to make deep spending cuts in such programs as Medicare, Social Security, and Medicaid. Ultimately, said Ross Douthat in NYTimes.com, the only way to keep “the liberal edifice solvent” is to raise taxes on the middle class back to pre-Bush rates. But if even a popular Democrat, in the afterglow of re-election, won’t go anywhere near a middle-class tax increase, the future of entitlement programs is very much in doubt.
Just wait a few years, said Jonathan Chait in NYMag.com.Medicare and Social Security remain “enormously popular, and Americans oppose cutting them under virtually any circumstances.” If and when the country must choose between higher taxes and major cuts to these programs, “voters would overwhelmingly favor tax hikes.” A decade from now, with tens of millions of Baby Boomers depending on entitlement programs, they will “be even more popular than they are today,” said Noam Scheiber in TNR.com. Some reform of these programs is inevitable, but good luck to any politician or party that tries to shred the safety net to keep taxes low. “The fiscal long game mostly favors liberals.”
We really can’t wait another decade, said Andrew Sullivan in TheDailyBeast.com. Anyone with basic arithmetic skills can see that we have to either raise taxes on the middle class or cut entitlement programs. This has been obvious for years, but what the public supports is “no cuts in spending, no increases in taxation,” and a big reduction in the deficit. Neither Republicans or Democrats, including President Obama, have the political courage “to tell them this is impossible, and that they are effectively big babies.” We all have to either start collectively paying for the government goodies we want, or make do with less of them. “You cannot have it both ways.”
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