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December 13th, 2017

Insight

President's cutesy speech omitted looming entitlement crisis

Jay Ambrose

By Jay Ambrose

Published Jan. 22, 2015

Unbelievable. President Obama, among the most divisive presidents in our recent history, gives an also divisive State of the Union speech, taking credit for things he did not do, producing a laundry list of mostly bad things he plans and at the end sounding oh, so nice. This country of ours? We're a "tight-knit family." Republicans? He wants to get along with them. To repeat a question he asked, really?

If Republicans in control of Congress try to amend the Dodd-Frank financial fix-it law, a confused, micro-managing conglomeration that left even the bureaucratic cops on the beat confused, he will veto it, he said. Maybe you want to amend some of his unilateralist overreaching on immigration? Another veto, by golly! There are parts of Obamacare that are almost sure to cost Americans jobs, but no tinkering, folks. Just live and let live, OK? You hear me? OK!?

The main thing wrong with the speech was something besides his antagonism parading itself as conciliation, however. It was his basic misperception of where we sit today. "The shadow of crisis has passed," Obama said, adding that we have "a growing economy, shrinking deficits, bustling industry and booming energy production." Therefore, he added in so many words, the time has come for still more intervention with businesses, more redistribution of wealth, higher taxes on some and lots more government spending on this, that and the other, all supposedly in the name of a middle class that will someday disappear if he actually gets away with doing these things.

The fact is that there is a crisis that has not passed, namely a debt that is definitely not shrinking but growing every minute and due to grow even more along with higher deficits once again within the decade. The chief issue is entitlements — Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and Obamacare. We do not have the funding mechanisms in place to pay for the promises, especially as more and more baby boomers retire, and the question is not just one of billions of dollars, but trillions. Someday, someone will have to pay it if we do not start to fix things now, namely our children and grandchildren. It will absolutely ruin them.

Some say, Oh, well, the fixing will be easy, a tax here, a tax there, some future spending cuts, but no — without first restructuring entitlements, it would take taxes of a kind that would be egregiously high for everyone and spending cuts that would leave little in the discretionary part of the budget standing. As for the restructuring, it could be done, and without terrible hurt, least of all for the most disadvantaged, but politically, it is no small feat.

For instance, Social Security Disability is due to run out of funding in 2016. Some say we should just switch some funds from Social Security for the elderly to this program, but that worsens the plight of the retirement program and is just a temporary fix for the disability program. House Republicans are saying we should look at broader reforms addressing the long term, but the response from Democrats is what you always hear when common sense enters the picture: demagogic, catastrophe-breeding screeches about how recipients would be hurt.

In the final analysis, the State of the Union speech described the sad state of a White House that is ignoring something that could be as bad as anything America has faced since the Great Depression. There were some good ideas — free trade is a good idea — but cutesy talk of other problems that are no longer problems and proposed ways of making things better that would likely make things worse. And despite the sweet talk at the end, there was still no sign that this president has the least idea of how to negotiate with the political opposition, just cleverness in making them look like villains.

Jay Ambrose
(TNS)

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Jay Ambrose, formerly Washington director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard newspapers and the editor of dailies in El Paso, Texas, and Denver, is a columnist living in Colorado.

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