[Homestead] The living and well organized are taking money from the weak and the unborn.

Gene GeRue genegerue at ruralize.com
Sat Feb 19 13:17:32 EST 2005

David Brooks is a pundit I admire. He is a conservative. He is not a 
zealot. He sees balance. And he has values, which mean he is biased. I like 
his bias.

In the Midst of Budget Decadence, a Leader Will Arise

Published: February 19, 2005

There's going to be another Ross Perot, and this time he's going to be 
younger. There's going to be a millionaire rising out of the country 
somewhere and he (or she) is going to lead a movement of people who are 
worried about federal deficits, who are offended by the horrendous burden 
seniors are placing on the young and who are disgusted by a legislative 
process that sometimes suggests that the government has lost all capacity 
for self-control.

He's going to be set off by some event like what is happening right now 
with the Medicare prescription drug benefit. He's going to look at an event 
like that one, and he's not only going to be worried about the country's 
economic future - he's also going to be morally offended. He's going to 
sense that something fundamentally decadent is going on.

And he's going to be right.

In the past months we have learned that the prescription drug benefit 
passed last year is not going to cost $400 billion over 10 years. The 
projections now, over a slightly different period, are that it's going to 
cost over $700 billion. And these cost estimates are coming before the 
program is even operating. They are only going to go up.

That means we're going to be spending the next few months bleeding over 
budget restraints that might produce savings in the millions, while the new 
prescription drug benefit will produce spending in the billions.

That means that as we spend the next year trying to get a grip on one 
entitlement, Social Security, we'll be launching a new one that is also 

Over the next few months we will be watching a government that may be 
millions-wise, but trillions-foolish. We will be watching a government that 
sometimes seems to have lost all perspective - like a lunatic who tries to 
dry himself with a hand towel while standing in a torrential downpour.

And much of this new spending will go to people who have insurance to pay 
for their drugs.

In Congress, some are taking a look at these new cost projections and 
figuring that maybe it's time to readjust the program. In the House there 
are Republicans like Mike Pence and Jeff Flake (whose predictions of this 
program's actual cost have been entirely vindicated by events). In the 
Senate there are people like Judd Gregg and Lindsey Graham. These fiscal 
conservatives want to make the program sustainable.

Perhaps the benefits should be limited to those earning up to 200 percent 
of the level at the poverty line. Perhaps the costs should be capped at 
$400 billion through other benefit adjustments. These ideas are akin to 
what the candidate George Bush proposed in 2000.

But the White House is threatening to veto anything they do! President 
Bush, who hasn't vetoed a single thing during his presidency, now threatens 
to veto something - and it's something that might actually restrain the 
growth of government. He threatens to use his first veto against an idea he 
himself originally proposed!

Have we entered another world, where up is down and rationality is irrational?

Every family and business in America has to scale back when the cost of 
something skyrockets. Does this rule not apply to us as a nation?

We may as well be blunt about the driving force behind all this. The living 
and well organized are taking money from the weak and the unborn. Over the 
past decades we have seen a gigantic transfer of wealth from struggling 
young families and the next generation to members of the AARP. In 1990, 29 
percent of federal spending went to seniors; by 2015 roughly half of all 
government spending will go to those over 65. This prescription drug 
measure is just part of that great redistribution.

But what can't last won't last. Before too long, some new sort of leader is 
going to arise, especially if we fail to reform Social Security this year. 
He's going to rail against a country that cannot control its appetites. 
He's going to rail against Republicans who promise to be virtuous - but not 
just yet. He's going to slam Democrats who loudly jeer at Republican 
deficits but whose own entitlement proposals would make the situation twice 
as bad. He's going to crusade against the interest groups who are so 
ferocious on behalf of their members that they sacrifice the future.

It won't be a green-eyeshade economic crusade this leader will be 
launching. It will be a moral crusade, and it'll be quite a show.

E-mail: dabrooks at nytimes.com


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