Left, Right & Center
Jewish World Review / January 9, 1998 / 11 Tevet, 5758
A dead era rises again?
The end of the era of big government -- as declared by our president -- lasted exactly two years. It seems the era just couldn't stay dead. It remains to be seen whether this crop of Republicans will cleave to their small-government principles.
Giddy at the prospect of a budget surplus this year, the White House is reverting to form -- spewing new spending proposals at the rate of one per day. In a variant of Jane Austen's famous observation about single men, the Democratic Party believes that it is a truth universally acknowledged that taxes collected in excess of need require more federal programs.
Two years ago, the nation was fairly well convinced that the Medicare program was in serious trouble. Since its inception, the program's costs have far outstripped even the most pessimistic predictions. Medicare was designed at a time in our history when most people died in their late '60s or early '70s. Today, people are living longer and putting more and more strain on the program.
Medicare now provides benefits to 40 million elderly and disabled Americans. When the 75 million baby boomers begin to retire in 10 years, the cost of providing the kind of care we now offer to the elderly will be unsustainable. Why? Because there will be too many of them and not enough workers paying into the program to support it.
Some serious and responsible observers have been imagining reforms of the system that will stress increasing the age of eligibility, decreasing the services covered and permitting beneficiaries to invest in Medical Savings Accounts as an alternative to complete dependence on government handouts. A bipartisan commission on Medicare is due to make its recommendations in March of 1999.
But no one could have imagined that the cure for what ails Medicare is to add even more potential beneficiaries. Yet, that is what President Clinton is proposing. Under the president's plan, millions of workers between the ages of 62 and 65, plus 700,000 "dislocated" workers 55 and older, would be eligible to buy into the Medicare program for roughly $300 per month (a premium designed by government, not in response to market rates). As with every other proposed expansion of government's insurance role, there is no thought given to the fact that this will inevitably eliminate all incentives for employers to provide insurance for these people.
Because our money is burning a hole in their pockets, the Clinton administration is also proposing a $2 billion plan to restore food-stamp benefits for legal immigrants -- a program eliminated as part of the 1996 welfare reform package.
As retrograde as the Medicare and food-stamp proposals may be -- and Republican sources on Capitol Hill say they have no chance of passing -- they are not as insidious as the president's proposal to spend $21 billion over five years on day care.
This is an area in which Republicans often buckle. Where children are concerned, they are terrified of appearing unkind. But as Margaret Thatcher once warned George Bush on another matter, "This is no time to go wobbly." Tax credits, block grants and the rest of this typically Clintonian package all add up to one thing: subsidizing parents who put their kids in day care at the expense of those who sacrifice to have one parent stay at home.
This is not a matter of need -- it is a matter of policy. Only a small number of families (usually single-parent) are forced by economic necessity to place their kids in day care. The rest choose it for other reasons. Those who put their kids first tend to earn less than those who put work first. As the Wall Street Journal reports, families in which both parents work earn an average $56,000 annually, while male-breadwinner families earn only an average of $32,000 per year.
Besides, "quality" child care is an illusion and will always be. Paid caretakers will never equal the lavish love of parents, especially mothers. The wholesale contracting out of child-rearing that the Clintons would encourage is exactly the reverse of what the country needs. This proposal almost equals the health care takeover in dangerousness. Let's hope Republicans have the grit to fight it with equal vigor.
1/6/98: "Understandable" Murder and Child Custody