The WasteWatcher: The Staff Blog of Citizens Against Government Waste

We Aren’t Greece...Yet

The WasteWatcher is the staff blog of Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) and the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste (CCAGW). For questions, contact blog@cagw.org.


There was a great article by Holman Jenkins in the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday entitled: "Behind the Noise, Entitlement Reform."  My summary of his piece is:

Perhaps if some Greek politicians had put their foot down 10 years ago to halt their country’s overspending and demanded reform of its nanny state, maybe their country wouldn’t be bankrupt with a debt to GNP ratio of 157% and an unemployment rate at 28%.

Jenkins reminds us that while everyone is angry at Washington because the Congress and the president are "playing politics" and being “irresponsible with the debt ceiling and government shutdown” it is important to remember that this is how our system works, it is how we govern ourselves.  We do not have a despotic king that rules us and controls our lives.  After all, he says, “America is a diverse, fractious society.  The only way it works is by the endless grinding out of political compromises amid shrieking and making threats and turning blue.”

He wonders what would have happened a decade ago if some Greek politicians had stood up to the notion that they just accept more prolific government spending and instead, forced a government shut-down in order to get a handle on their growing cradle-to-grave nanny state and corresponding national debt.  While the Greek press and others would have accused them of making their nation’s capital look dysfunctional, “a laughingstock,” and “shameful”, they stood firm because they saw “ideological and electoral rewards to be gained from making a fuss over unsustainable spending.”

Jenkins correctly points out that critics of “radical,” fiscal conservatives do not like the analogy of comparing the U.S. to Greece but reminds them that “[no] country can borrow and spend infinite amounts of money, and no political system is immune to the incentive to keep trying anyway.  Herein lies the real point that applies as much to Washington as to Athens.”

What is the fight really about according to Jenkins?  It really is about long-term spending because ObamaCare is a brand new entitlement and fiscal hawks who care about our nation’s future want to stop it before it gets started.  After all, it is the current entitlement programs that are bankrupting our country but no politician wants to or will vote to take those away.

Jenkins says:

Sadly, although the Internet has spawned 100,000 pundits, most of what you find there today is two different echo-chamber versions of blame-laying for Tuesday's theatrical government shutdown. A favorite Democratic talking point starts from the claim that the 2012 election settled everything; the Obama vision of an expanded entitlement state won. But, rightly, nothing is ever settled in a democracy, and Mr. Obama certainly settled nothing because he never said how he wanted to pay for the spending he treated as untouchable."

Mr. Jenkins is right when he says that Washington is nowhere near the “grand bargain” on taxes and spending that President Obama called for at the end of his re-election campaign in 2012.  Due to Obama’s duplicity on this issue, Jenkins says “we're nowhere near a consensus on what such a bargain should consist of and we may need 10 more episodes of tea party ‘madness’ to get there.”

Mr. Jenkins warns us that there will be more showdowns and each bit of progress on spending reductions will be “tiny – until it’s not.”  He says, “the 2011 sequester, which caused critics to engage in choruses of disapproval and the S&P to downgrade U.S. debt, set us on a path to today's modestly smaller current deficits.”

All we may see out of this current fight Jenkins notes is perhaps a “near-meaningless repeal of ObamaCare's self-defeating medical device tax” and while the tax repeal would be a desirable outcome, it will have no effect on the huge fiscal “tsunami that begins when the baby boomers start demanding their benefits.”

He closes by saying, “[w]e are at the beginning of the beginning.  Yet the birth pangs of entitlement reform that will one day inspire the world (as we did with tax reform in the '80s) may be what we're witnessing.”

Let’s hope so.

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