Robert Samuelson: Blame Seniors for Debt Crisis

Friday, 29 Jul 2011 10:26 AM

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As Americans argue over who is to blame for the debt crisis, economics writer Robert J. Samuelson has found a surprising target, one he calls the perfect scapegoat — the elderly.

The over-65s are soaking up too much of the national pie, Samuelson argued in an Op-Ed in Friday’s Washington Post, looking largey at the cost of  entitlement programs

“Older Americans do not intend to ruin America, but as a group, that’s what they’re about,” Samuelson says.

Samuelson says that back in 1960 defense ate up 52 percent of the national budget. Now he blames Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid account for roughly that figure, while defense spending is down to around 20 percent even with two wars raging.

“By now, it’s obvious that we need to rewrite the social contract that, over the past half-century, has transformed the federal government’s main task into transferring income from workers to retirees,” he wrote.

He said each senior receives around $26,000 a year from the federal government, and their numbers will double in the next quarter-century.

“It’s hard to discuss the budget realistically if you ignore most of what the budget does,” wrote Samuelson, who said President Barack Obama “poses as one brave guy” for even raising the question of entitlement reform.

“What he hasn’t done is to ask — in language that is clear and comprehensible to ordinary people — whether many healthy, reasonably well-off seniors deserve all the subsidies they receive. That would be leadership. Obama is having none of it.

“But the shunning is bipartisan,” he added. “Tea Party advocates broadly deplore government spending without acknowledging that most of it goes for popular Social Security and Medicare.

“Because Social Security and Medicare are so intertwined in our social fabric, changing them could never be easy. But the fact that we’ve evaded the choices for so long is why the present budget impasse has been so tortuous and why, if we continue our avoidance, there will be others.”

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