Op-Eds

We Must Be Honest With the American People

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Washington, DC, July 5, 2011 | comments

There is much discussion in the media and pundit circles urging Republicans to distance themselves from reforming entitlements. “Learn the lesson,” they tell us. “If you do not stop talking about Medicare you will not get re-elected.”

Addressing the solvency of Medicare is not easy. The truth of the matter, according to the Medicare trustees themselves, is that Medicare is on an unsustainable path to bankruptcy. Their most recent projection is that Medicare will be bankrupt by 2024.  Even the New York Times in an editorial last week acknowledged that spending on entitlements must be reduced to prevent entitlement bankruptcy.

So the question I face is this: Do I do what is right for country by keeping this discussion on the front burner and thus risk my political future? Or do I take the easier road now and hope things somehow get better? To me the answer is clear: we must lead and continue to be honest with the American people. We have to begin dealing with the problem.

The so-called “untouchables” – entitlements, defense, interest on the debt, and mandatory spending - make up 81 percent of the federal budget. We are borrowing $58,000 per second (at least while foreign nations still lend it to us).  We are adding $1.6 trillion to our national debt each year.

Tax increases won’t solve the problem – massive tax increases on those making more than $200,000 will only reduce the problem by a tiny fraction.  Even raising taxes on everyone won’t solve the problem. Cleaning up fraud and abuse will also help, but that too is a by an insignificant amount. 

No one likes it, but this is the situation we face.  There are no easy solutions. Without addressing entitlements (and also making sensible reductions in defense spending) there is no way out of our national debt crisis.

Paul Ryan’s plan preserves Medicare for future generations of seniors. Will it be the same as today? No, it will not be exactly the same – in the Ryan plan, Medicare becomes a patient-centered program rather than a one size fits all program. But neither will the Ryan plan be the “destruction” of Medicare.

The Ryan plan has been repeatedly misrepresented as a “voucher” system which will force seniors to pay more.  That is not true. There are NO changes for those 55 and older. None. Those under 55, when they turn 65, will be allowed to choose from a number of government-approved heath care plans for their coverage.

The taxpayer chooses from the available programs and the government pays for it.  There is no voucher to put toward medical expenses or insurance. Seniors are not thrown into the market as individuals. Unlike in the current system, in which there is no cost control whatsoever, the costs to the government are reduced by the market pressure of literally millions of consumers.  The cost must be driven down, not merely subsidized ad infinitum.

My choice, despite its allegedly negative impact on my own re-election, is to support the Ryan proposal at this time and continue forcing the discussion in order to find a solution.  Any solution must protect those who are currently in the Medicare system and preserve a more cost-effective Medicare for the future. To do nothing will mean the end of Medicare. No one will have any form of Medicare if we allow it to continue its current course to bankruptcy.

I made the decision to run for Congress because I didn’t want our children and grandchildren to be handed a bankrupt, weakened United States.  At the end of the day when I look in the mirror, I need to know that I did my best for my children and future generations. 

This Medicare debate, the debt ceiling discussion and other spending priority decisions coming in the next few months are the critical issues of our times. These issues are bigger than my seat or re-election considerations.

Let’s stop the name-calling, the blame game, the demagoguery and outright lies regarding the consequences of spending more than we have. Let’s be honest about the situation we face and work together to avoid bankrupting Medicare, Social Security, and Medicaid.  Denying the problem and doing nothing merely guarantees our financial collapse.

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