Entitlements for Middle- and Upper-Income People Not the American Way, According to Former GAO Chief David Walker

March 16, 2010

From David Walker's new book "Comeback America," comparing President Roosevelt's modest goal of protecting the elderly poor to the unsustainable giveaways of modern entitlement programs:

Roosevelt described Social Security as a modest offer to "give some measure of protection to the average citizen and to his family against the loss of a job and against poverty-ridden old age."

Look what has happened since then. About 35 percent of Americans rely on Social Security for 90 percent or more of their retirement income. … And Social Security is only one example. Over the years, the federal government has created a number of social insurance programs — including the Medicare plans for doctors' visits and prescription drugs — that provide significant taxpayer subsidies to even middle- and upper-income Americans.

We started these programs as a safety net for our hard-luck fellow citizens, and of course that safety net must remain strong. My point is that programs designed to help the needy should not become enshrined as benefits to which all are entitled. Too many of us who can afford to contribute more to our own well-being are jumping into the safety net instead. That approach is not affordable or sustainable. More important, it's not the American way.

It's not hard to imagine what Walker would think of the new health reform bill that gives a huge government subsidy to all middle- and upper-middle income Americans during their working years. The House version of the health reform bill would send large checks to families of four making up to $110,000; the Senate version cut that back to a still-above-average income of $88,000.

Walker is right to call modern entitlements unaffordable because in its current incarnation, our income tax system is incapable of generating enough to fuel the spending that Congress and the President are pushing us into. So the idea of adding a gigantic new entitlement in the health care bill is terrible. It pushes federal spending into uncharted territory of fiscal irresponsibility.

The federal government is behaving like a person who's awash in credit card debt but says to himself, "What the hell! I'm already in so deep, I may as well charge the big TV." Our leaders should know better. Actually, they do know better, but their political ambition to "remake America" has overwhelmed their common sense.


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