The Social Security Act, which in 1935 introduced old-age insurance, unemployment insurance and other social welfare programs, faced critics who worried it would threaten democracy itself.
Isn't this socialism?" one senator, Thomas Pryor Gore, a Democrat from Oklahoma, asked at one point.
Ronald Reagan warned that Medicare would be followed by:
other federal programs that will invade every area of freedom as we have known it in this country.
I say Reagan, in that statement, had it right. Indeed, our personal freedoms have been, and continue to be, invaded. But the thing is, while the number of laws regulating our individual actions has grown exponentially over the past 30 years, I don't believe that your average citizen would necessarily agree that we're substantially less free. In terms of social security and medicare, when (today) nearly 8% of an individual's income is taken over his working lifetime---in return for the promise of subsidized* healthcare and income throughout his retirement---he, being that that's all he's ever known (and having no choice in the matter anyway) is likely okay with that. Never minding what he might have done with all that hard-earned money were he FREE to allocate it as he saw fit. Never minding that an equal sum was confiscated from his employer for his "benefit" over all those years. Never minding---in fact, utterly oblivious to---the wages and benefits he, therefore, never realized due to that cost to his employer. Never minding that these programs, in present form, have literally zero chance of surviving our changing demography.
*Yes, subsidized. Workers pay social security and medicare "taxes" that essentially transfer to older-aged recipients. Workers become recipients by statute, which can be changed, as opposed to by an insurance contract in which benefits cannot be unilaterally altered or terminated (except for nonpayment of premiums).
Linn quotes Jonathan Oberlander, a professor of health policy and management at the University of North Carolina:
"We've been through this before, and in some ways that's comforting because Medicare and Social Security turned out OK.
Huh? "Turned out OK"? I'll state it again, these programs have LITERALLY ZERO chance of surviving our changing demography. So no! We can take no comfort in the prognosis for Medicare and Social Security.
As for our immediate mess: A minority of House Republicans' dance steps are, allegedly, being choreographed by the Tea Party. Now, assuming that's the case, we must ask, why is the Tea Party going after a law---as ill-conceived as it may be---that has already been passed, and upheld by the Supreme Court? They have to know that there'll be no defunding of the Affordable Care Act. I mean why blow a perfectly good budget battle on an objective they have zero chance of achieving, when they can push hard for a little reforming of two programs that are scheduled to explode in our faces in the not too distant future? You think maybe the Tea Partiers are just people, like the rest of us, who pursue their own separate interests? You think maybe, as Linn wrote:
one reason both Medicare and Social Security endured is that people quickly started getting benefits, and enjoyed them. Even Ted Cruz, the Texas senator who is among Obamacare's fiercest opponents, told Fox News one worry is that people will become "hooked" on Obama's health-care plan and not want to repeal it.
I'm not aware of the Tea Party's demography (although I'm guessing they're a mature bunch), and I'm just not inspired to Google it at the moment, but I suspect they're not pushing for Social Security and Medicare reform because---personal freedom aside---they're either already hooked on their "benefits", or they're not the least bit interested in hurting their prospects for receiving "benefits" in the future.
Robert Samuelson thinks it's a matter of pragmatism:
You can ascribe the mismatch between tea party rhetoric and the budgetary realities to pragmatism. Even tea party groups know that Social Security and Medicare are wildly popular. To attack them head on would be a political death wish.
I say, alas, deficit spending is a terrible thing, that is until some of it lands on your doorstep.