Seniors need to vote for children
AMERICANS, like Europeans, have been living in a politically constructed fantasy world.
Sympathetic, smiling glad-handers politicians seeking re-election have promised us generous benefits.
All the while, of course, they have been saddling us with fatal levels of debt.
The Congress of the United States has run up a public debt of almost $15 trillion.
That's $48,087.91 worth of debt for every man, woman and child in the country.
Actually, it's worse than that.
The phrase "outstanding public debt" doesn't include the projected cost of gargantuan programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
As economics professor Lawrence Kotlikoff explained on National Public Radio in August, add in the cost of those programs, and Congress has obligated Americans to pay $211 trillion for the benefits that, understandably, they don't want to give up.
We've been had, and we have nobody but ourselves to blame.
We let smiling politicians do this to us. — and worse, to our children
We watch with detachment the meltdown of the European countries whose politicians have played the same game, but we shouldn't take any comfort from distance.
Unless Americans set a new course, this country is going down, too.
Members of Congress, unable to agree on fiscal matters earlier this year, invented a kind of budgetary blunderbuss with which to threaten themselves:
If the current supercommittee of Republicans and Democrats can't agree on budget cuts by Nov. 23, the day before Thanksgiving, they will make automatic cuts to all federal programs, including defense.
Except, at Democrats' insistence, entitlement programs.
Bloomberg News, Oct. 31:
"Social Security and Medicare, the major entitlement programs for the elderly that together cost more than $1 trillion a year and account for a third of the budget, are exempt from the automatic cuts, which would be split between defense and domestic programs."
Against this backdrop, what should come in the mail but another missive from the American Association of Retired Persons.
"AARP understands the importance of tackling the deficit. But reducing the deficit on the backs of America's seniors is not the way to do it.
"Millions of Americans have spent their entire careers paying into Social Security and Medicare, and they deserve the benefits they have earned," it said.
First, AARP says, sign the enclosed petitions to members of Congress. "Tell our leaders on Capitol Hill that we will not tolerate harmful cuts to Social Security and Medicare benefits."
Second: Please include a donation to AARP.
Don't get me wrong. I think seniors have a point.
Americans are forced to participate in Social Security. They are promised benefits if they do.
Now the politicians who promised the benefits are forced to admit what they've known all along:
It's a pay-as-you-go program. There's nothing in the lockbox but IOUs to be paid by future generations.
Each generation of working people pays for the benefits of the previous generation. And because 77 million baby boomers had fewer children, and their children fewer still, the system doesn't work anymore.
What current retirees consume will come out of their children's and grandchildren's paychecks.
"We know without a shred of doubt that we're bequeathing a lower living standard to the next generation based on the path that we're on," House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan said.
"The sooner we grapple with this the more likely we are to avert that."
Yes, trimming Social Security and Medicare benefits will be painful.
But watching in comfort as our children and grandchildren fall into poverty would be more painful still.
I'm with Ryan, the Republicans and the Democrats who do math.
Promising people anything (and giving them debt) was one cold, self-serving thing to do to the American people.
We need to start punishing such cynical behavior at the ballot box, and rewarding those who are honest with us — even if means a trim in our own benefits.
To borrow the AARP's construction, reducing the deficit by letting it fall on the backs of America's children is not the way to proceed.
Maurice is editorial page editor of the Daily Mail. She may be reached at 348-4802 or firstname.lastname@example.org.