Blame American Voters For The Fiscal Cliff Debacle

UB-DSS-David-BrooksDavid Brooks’ latest column is spot on. He begins by showing how the nation’s debt burden has increased as our population has aged, and those aged voters, well, voted in more benefits for themselves. He then laments that the fiscal cliff deal merely kicked all the cans down the road once again. The deal essentially accomplished nothing: the tax increases on the rich will generate $600 billion over 10 years, while the debt is expected to increase by $8 trillion.

He then directs the blame towards those who ultimately are responsible: not inept congressmen, but the voters who sent those inept representatives to Washington in the first place:

Whom should we blame for this? Again, we should not blame Obama and Boehner. In their different ways, they and a number of other people in the Congress are trying to find a politically palatable way to deal with these hard issues. They got what conditions allowed.

Ultimately, we should blame the American voters. The average Medicare couple pays $109,000 into the program and gets $343,000 in benefits out, according to the Urban Institute. This is $234,000 in free money. Many voters have decided they like spending a lot on themselves and pushing costs onto their children and grandchildren. They have decided they like borrowing up to $1 trillion a year for tax credits, disability payments, defense contracts and the rest. They have found that the original Keynesian rationale for these deficits provides a perfect cover for permanent deficit-living. They have made it clear that they will destroy any politician who tries to stop them from cost-shifting in this way.

Most members of Congress are responding efficiently to the popular will. A large number of reactionary Democrats reject any measure to touch Medicare or other entitlement programs. A large number of impotent Republicans talk about reducing the debt, but are incapable of forging a deal that balances tax increases with spending cuts.

The events of the past few weeks demonstrate that these political pressures overwhelm the few realists looking for a more ambitious bargain. The country either doesn’t know or doesn’t care about the burdens we are placing on our children. No coalition of leaders has successfully confronted the voters, and made them heedful of the ruin they are bringing upon the nation.

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7 Responses to Blame American Voters For The Fiscal Cliff Debacle

  1. I’m a big fan of David Brooks, but his rationale here is a bit simplistic. The “$234,000 in free money” the average Medicare couple receives in benefits is nothing of the kind. Medicare is a national social insurance program. As with any insurance operation, there is no direct correlation between premiums collected today (receipts) versus benefits payed out tomorrow (expenditures). There are a multitude of factors that affect the relative value of money, and specific market conditions, between the time a person starts working and when they retire.

    Medicare is in financial difficulty because Congress failed to address the well-known demographic effect of the Baby Boom generation population spike. Medicare receipts did not keep up because no one had the courage to propose – dare I say it – raising taxes. Furthermore, the Wall Street-caused Great Recession of 2008 permanently removed millions of people from the workforce who would be contributing to Medicare right now through payroll taxes.

    Brooks also completely ignores what the larger societal costs would be if Medicare was eliminated, or if severe cuts were made to beneficiaries. The idea of millions of elderly folks lining up in hospital emergency rooms with limited ability to pay, or seeing them suffer untreated and die in their homes, is a chilling reminder of what occurred before the advent of Social Security and Medicare.

    However, Brooks is correct in his assessment of self-serving voters and the self-serving politicians who represent them. Altruism has been lost as an American virtue, and the political courage which once defined the greatness of our nation is fading into history. Narrowly-focused, simplistic arguments do not produce effective solutions for complex problems. This is a new world we live in. We better start thinking and acting more intelligently.

    • Thanks again for your excellent comments.

      I’m just now starting to wrap my head around whats wrong with American healthcare. There’s just no reason why we should pay the most in the world, and twice as much as #2, Switzerland.

    • Jarret R. says:

      Brooks also repeats the long-cherished right-wing trick of labelling necessary social programs as “entitlements.” This is a sneaky linguistic turn they pulled years ago, and its effectively convinced more and more people that they should abandon the idea of a safety-net at the same time that an increasingly globalized world has rendered the other effective tool of reducing income inequality, organized labor, to the historical dust-bins. The Baby Boomers are reaping what they’ve sown, and they’ll get no sympathy from me for wanting all of the benefits for free and then having the nerve to shred these same benefits for future generations.

      • Another sneaky right-wing trick is playing to Millennials’ natural resentment for their parent’s generation – the Baby Boomers – who allegedly are getting their benefits for “free” while trying to “shred” them from future generations. Unfortunately, this tactic appears to be working. Here are the facts:

        130 million Americans cast ballots in the 2012 election. 38% of this voting electorate was 45-64 years old. Of these, 51% (25+ million) voted Republican, and 47% (23+ million) voted Democratic ( There are approximately 85 million Baby Boomers born between 1946-1964 (there is no agreed-upon standard for exact generational date ranges).

        As a 57 year-old Independent, I’m one of those 23 plus million people who voted for Obama and Democratic candidates. I have never received any government benefits in my life, but when I do retire, I will not be getting anything for free as I paid my share into the system. Furthermore, I am a staunch supporter of preserving existing Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, benefits for all generations; and passionately fight against GOP efforts to cut them. Since the late 60’s, I’ve worked hard for progressive values along with millions of others. I hope our efforts are not forgotten.

  2. I see someone reads my blogs lol

    Btw I thought the added tax increase was 4.6trillion

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