06 October 2008

Touching the Third Rail

Well, I stretch the truth a bit. The third rail of politics has long been Social Security -- touch it and you're dead. But a close correlate might be Medicare. It's a closely related program, in that it serves basically the same constituency, which happens to be a highly politically active one, that it is very popular and very needed among its demographic. And if you touch it, you're probably dead, too. Maybe there's a"fourth rail?"

Because apparently McCain is planning on cutting Medicare to the tune of $1.3 Trillion, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Wow. Give them credit for honesty, if not for political sense. The details:

  • McCain's health care plan consists largely of providing a $5000 tax credit for families to buy their own individual health insurance.
  • Although there is a corresponding tax increase on employers, it does not offset and the plan results in a budgetary shortfall of $1.3 Trillion over ten years.
  • McCain has promised that his plan will be "budget neutral," meaning that the shortfall must be balanced by reductions in expenditures.
  • Douglas Holtz-Eakin, Sen. McCain's senior policy adviser, said Sunday that the campaign plans to fund the tax credits with savings from Medicare. Specific cuts were not identified.
Now, political calculations aside, I just don't see how this can be: it defies budgetary physics. We all know that Medicare is hurtling towards a cliff of insolvency, and significant structural changes will be required just to maintain the program as it is now. To propose that Medicare might be a cost center to derive savings from to fund another program seems insane.

16 comments:

Anonymous said...

Good luck getting insurance if you get booted off of Medicare, are over the age of 60, an find yourself having to shop for private insurance. You'll probably end up having to go to 30 different specialists to prove to them that you don't have a pre-existing condition.

I can just see the man or woman that has been a 30 year smoker try and get coverage at 61 years of age once they get told that medicare won't cover them anymore. Even if all they have is COPD or emphysima.

Medicare and Social Security are unmanageable. They are so big and they are so intertwined with peoples lives that you will have an honest to goodness revolt if they try and make any sort of sensible cuts to these programs.

Anonymous said...

This last tidbit of information, about McCain's plan to raid Medicare to underwrite the tax credit, is news to me. Was this information just released???

What really worries me about his plan is that the only people who will end up insured will be the young and healthy, and those with very high incomes.

McCain either has no common sense, or he has a brillian plan for reducing the population of the U.S.

scalpel said...

I view Medicare and SS the same way that liberals view the Iraq war: horrible expensive mistakes that we should never have gotten into in the first place.

Let's come up with a timetable for withdrawal.

Anonymous said...

Scalpel, should we just dig mass graves for the people who can't survive without Medicare and Social Security subsidies?

At least the Dems are concerned about the citizens and taxpayers of this country.

scalpel said...

How did people ever survive before the federal government nanny programs?

Anonymous said...

Dems don't care about this country... if they did they wouldn't running a socialist pinko for president...

We all know that under the Obama administration the poor taxpayers will be in more trouble than the rich. Obama is the new Jimmy Carter: here to usher in an all new era of inflation and bone-head foreign policies. All hail the all mighty Obama: savior of the Socialist Republic of America!

Yup: I know that Obama is getting elected. After the re-election of Bill Clinton I will not underestimate the voters of this country to do something stupid in the name of progress...

shadowfax said...

Anon 6:44

I usually try not to get into this, but your comment is just too rich to ignore.

It's hysterical watching the reps try to pretend that the last eight years just didn't happen. The economy is cratering now, we've lost 750,000 jobs in the last year, income is down, inflation is beginning, $700 Bn for the banks, real estate in free fall, and yet it'll be Obama who ushered in a recession.

Somehow.

JimII said...

Scapel wrote:
I view Medicare and SS the same way that liberals view the Iraq war: horrible expensive mistakes that we should never have gotten into in the first place.

So, you view providing medicine and food and shelter to the elderly and the sick as bad. Bad like liberals view unprovoked war as bad.

Seriously? Wow. So, you're the devil. That's pretty cool. Some of the Barack bashing and W rationalizing get to be frustrating to read. But, this. This is awesome in its wickedness.

When liberals provide for the least of these, it makes conservatives as made as it make liberals when conservatives support unprovoked war.

Wow.

I'm mean--wow.

Seriously!

Savage Henry said...

Jim, your comment brings to mind the tired old saying "the road to Hell is paved with good intentions".

We could probably done things a lot better in the Middle East. We sure as feces could have done a better job with OIF-1 - I was there, and saw some little mistakes snowball into disasters that we are just now digging out of. We did, however, stop the systematic use of rape as a tool to enforce Ba'ath Party policy, gave out a crapload of food and medicine, and stopped several thousand children a year from starving to death under the tender ministrations of the UN's Oil for Food program. There is also a chance that Iraq will become a free(relatively), democratic(relatively) nation and a stabilizing force(objectively) in the region in the next few decades. Good stuff, right? It just cost a lot of blood and treasure on the front end to get there.

Some of the entitlement programs we have now are a weird mirror image of the Iraq war in a way. They started out with great intentions and do a lot of good for a great many people. They are also becoming a form of slavery to those of us forced to support them. They haven't cost too much (relatively, again) yet, but they will. One of many possible futures is a United States that is forced into a de facto isolationism by the crushing costs of maintaining these entitlements. All you've got to do is crack a book about the beginnings of World War One and Two to see that US isolationism isn't the best policy for the most people - both here and around the world.

I guess what I'm hoping to get you to think about with my rambling, semi-coherent diatribe is that the intent of things like war or entitlement programs matters far less than the effects and consequences of the actions taken.

Objectively evaluate the second and third order effects of actions before you formulate judgments on them. You may be surprised by what you come up with, if you think far enough ahead.

That's my two dinar, anyway.

Anonymous said...

Jimii,

Libs feel good about themselves by "doing for the least" by doing it with others money and goods.

As a demographic group liberals give less to charity than conservatives. It is so tiresome to hear libs claiming the moral high ground.

shadowfax said...

Anon,

Libs view government as a tool for the common good. Cons want to go back to Lord of the Flies.

And I've always wondered how the lib-con charity stat would look if you did not count tithes to churches. I am not a churchgoer but I I give a lot to charity. I wonder how many conservatives give to their church and nothing else?

Anonymous said...

Scalpel said: How did people ever survive before the federal government nanny programs?

Prior to Medicare and Social Security, U.S. households often comprised multiple generations.

Of course, living expenses and medical costs were lower then. Can you imagine your children having to absorb into their budget the cost of your medical care, if not for Medicare?

Before you feel too smug about being able to provide for yourself in your dotage, read this article:

When you are denied health insurance

Anonymous said...

I wonder, too, Shadowfax, how much those statistics are skewed by large endowments given by the wealthy in return for a tax break?

It would be interesting to see the source material for that claim.

Ted said...

We could start by cutting out the motorized scooter and viagra subsidies....

scalpel said...

Jimii - "So, you view providing medicine and food and shelter to the elderly and the sick as bad."

If you believe that the only way to provide medicine, food, and shelter to the elderly and sick is by perpetuating bloated and failing federal programs, then I can understand your confusion and consternation. Perhaps you should consider that there might be alternative solutions before calling me names.

If, on the other hand, you were attempting to construct a strawman, I have to give you credit for a beauty. But in that case, you should stop being such a dick.

jd said...

"And I've always wondered how the lib-con charity stat would look if you did not count tithes to churches. I am not a churchgoer but I I give a lot to charity. I wonder how many conservatives give to their church and nothing else?"

Well there are probably a few libs as well who may go to church and may pay tithe so you would have to subract that out.

And is somehow giving to a non church charity somehow superior to what a church might do with it?

If you have so much trust in the government for the common good then maybe there should be a special check box on your IRS 1040

X - 1 dollar for campaign funds
X - take an extra 10% of my income so the government can do good with it.