THE WORD “THUGGISH” comes to mind. “I’m not a number,” says the older man in a television ad funded by the seniors’ lobby AARP. “I’m not a line item on a budget. And I’m definitely not a pushover.” He walks toward the camera, joined by a growing mob. “But I am a voter. So Washington, before you even think about cutting my Medicare and Social Security benefits, here’s a number you should remember: 50 million.” Subtle — no. Effective — no doubt. Responsible — no way.
The crunch time for the congressional supercommittee has arrived, and with it comes a new round of self-centered, shortsighted intransigence on the part of AARP and its fellow don’t-touch-my-benefits purists. This unyielding position, undergirded by a multimillion-dollar ad campaign, is as wrongheaded as the equivalent line-drawing of Grover Norquist and the no-new-taxes crowd.
As tiresome as it may be to see these points repeated, it seems necessary to restate them: First, the only reasonable solution to the debt problem will be a balanced approach that combines new revenue with spending cuts. Second, dealing with the spending side of the ledger requires getting entitlement spending, first and foremost Medicare, under control. Third, while cuts in promised benefits are not necessarily required, it is counter-productive to take them off the table. It is unacceptable to argue that no senior, no matter how well off, can be called on to sacrifice for the greater good.