Howard Rich's Blog

August 11, 2008

Going For Broke

Filed under: Uncategorized — howierich @ 2:52 pm

Sometimes, what’s wrong with government in America really can be “boiled down” to a delicious metaphor – one that exquisitely encapsulates the failure of our politicians to get a handle on their insatiable “appetites.”

Take last week’s news that the U.S. Senate is finally privatizing its restaurant business after losing more than $18 million over the past fifteen years – a decision it reached after taking advantage of one last $250,000 taxpayer bailout just to make this month’s payroll, of course.

Sure, that amount is scarcely a drop in the bucket compared to the much larger pork smorgasbord Senators spread out for themselves every year in Washington, but the irony truly is delectable – for everyone but the taxpayers, at least.

“Financially breaking even has not been the objective of the current management due to an expectation that the restaurants will operate at a deficit annually,” said California Democrat Dianne Feinstein, who apparently fails to grasp how this trend applies to the rest of government.

After all, isn’t Washington’s worsening fiscal disaster just a continuation of this admittedly trivial passing of the buck? In fact, how is the Senate’s sinking food chain any different from our current Social Security quagmire? Or Medicare’s impending morass?

There is no difference – except Social Security and Medicare each suck up more than 20 percent of the federal budget.

Yet like the Senate restaurant, both are going under to the tune of trillions of dollars down the drain.

For each of these examples, there’s a word that sums up the fundamental problem we’re dealing with – entitlement.

Like Feinstein said, the Senate restaurants didn’t make money because they didn’t have to. In fact, it’s hard to fault the managers for failing to produce a profitable product because unlike hundreds of thousands of small businesses all across the country, the bottom line didn’t matter to them. They were “entitled” to keep on running deficits because millions of Americans who would never get the opportunity to dine in one of their swanky establishments were forced to foot the bill.

Similarly, millions of Americans are forced to continue taking out huge chunks of their paychecks to fund a Social Security program that will have gone broke long before they reach retirement age.

So, is the Senate going to follow suit and privatize Social Security? Of course not, despite the fact that the program will start spending more than it takes in by 2017, and will have exhausted all of its reserves by 2041. And never mind that each day our elected officials wait to fix the problem, the more expensive it becomes to fix.

As for Medicare, the program is already spending more than it takes in, with a recent report from the program’s board of trustees concluding that its hospital insurance trust fund will become insolvent by 2019.

And as if Medicare’s unsustainable expansions weren’t bad enough, a Washington Post report just last week exposed that the program is rife with health care fraud – part of a $60 billion annual problem for our country.

Clearly, the Senate’s restaurant bailout is small potatoes when compared to the downward spiral of these two twin government entitlement behemoths, but the principle remains the same.

At this point, neither major party (nor their respective presidential nominees) has proposed anything even resembling a sustainable solution for Medicare or Social Security. In fact, the leaders of both parties are guilty of exacerbating the problem. Behind Barack Obama’s telegenic appeal and John McCain’s maverick image are two politicians who, at present, lack the political will to grapple honestly with either issue.

Like their Senate counterparts, both Obama and McCain seem content to pass the tab onto the taxpayers – even if the people paying for it never get to taste what’s on the menu.

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