Rep. Paul Gosar sounded a welcome alarm last week before a packed house at the Payson Tea Party. But then he failed to suggest a rational solution to the problem he so eloquently identified.
The Prescott Republican represents all Rim Country in a district so safely Republican that he will likely cast a vote in Congress on our behalf for as long as he pleases. In his Payson speech last week, Gosar rightly stressed the fiscally unsustainable, morally indefensible growth in the nation’s debt, due largely to demographics and the upward spiral of medical costs.
The shocking figures he presented clearly demand action.
If we do nothing to “bend the curve,” federal spending will shoot up to two or three times the gross domestic product in the decades to come. As the baby boomers retire, the number of people on Medicare will increase from about 43 million at present to perhaps 93 million by 2060. Accommodating those numbers without both an increase in payroll taxes and a moderation in medical inflation will force a drastic cut in benefits for the next generation. That would represent the greatest generational betrayal in this nation’s history.
Meanwhile, Americans continue to pay two or three times as much per person for medical care as almost any other advanced industrial nation, without producing longer life or better health. Although the rate of medical inflation has dropped, it continues to rise faster than almost any other sector of the economy.
Alas, this isn’t a news flash.
The long-term fiscal danger has been clear for decades. The recent recession turned a chronic illness into an emergency room visit while ballooning the deficit. The crisis remains acute, although Medicare’s finances have improved marginally in the past two years and the deficit has dropped by almost 50 percent — from a staggering $1.1 trillion annually to a still ruinous $625 billion.
The clear, compelling charts Gosar presented before a rapt audience of more than 150 Tea Party activists made a compelling case for immediate action to address one of the most important financial emergencies in this nation’s storied history.
We must secure the future of Social Security and Medicare, keep faith with the next generation, restore responsibility to federal budgets and restrain medical costs. He’s absolutely right.
So what’s his proposal?
He wants to exploit political controversy in hopes Republicans can win a supermajority in the House and control of the Senate in 2014 and therefore impose its budget solutions on President Barack Obama. If that doesn’t work, then he suggests Republicans continue to exploit political scandals and missteps until 2016 when they can win the presidency and both chambers and impose a solution.
What a tragedy. What a maddening abandonment of responsibility.
That’s simply not how our system works — as both Democrats and Republicans have proven over and over for the past four years and counting.
Neither side can dictate terms when it comes to something as politically difficult as saving Medicare and Social Security and restoring sanity to federal budgeting. After two years of deadlock and posturing, we had an election last year. Republicans lost seats in both the House and the Senate — although they retain an untrammeled ability to block virtually any legislation in either chamber.
Clearly, President Obama and the Senate Democrats cannot force their solutions down the throats of what Gosar called the “blocking minority” of Republicans.
Well and good. The Democrats have not proposed a comprehensive solution to this grave crisis. They seem interested mostly in raising tax rates on the rich — which won’t come near to addressing the problem. They have made no serious proposals to assure the long-term stability of either Medicare or Social Security — much less bring the federal budget back into balance.
But then, the Republicans have also not proposed a workable solution. They remain fixated on reducing tax rates in the face of a historic deficit. And while they raise persistent questions about Obamacare’s prescription, they have offered no politically viable remedy to the problem of 50 million uninsured — nor to the unsustainable rise in the cost of Medicare.
Neither side has listened to the urgent, common-sense pleas of the voters, who want the problem solved — even if it means compromise and accommodation. We need that grand bargain both sides have repeatedly spurned.
So we agree with the diagnosis: The deficit and the demographics pose a grave threat to the Republic. The complex illness requires a dangerous, high-risk surgery.
But Gosar’s appeal to deadlock and the politics of personal destruction would only open an artery to bleed an already stricken patient.