Promises They Can't Keep

Publication: The Washington Post

Author: Robert J. Samuelson

01/09/2008 - The big lie of campaign 2008 -- so far -- is that the presidential candidates, Democratic and Republican, will take care of our children. Listening to these politicians, you might think they will. Doing well by children has now passed motherhood and apple pie as an idol that all candidates must worship.


Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid -- three programs that go overwhelmingly to older Americans -- already represent more than 40 percent of federal spending. A new report from the Congressional Budget Office projects that these programs could easily grow to about 70 percent of the budget by 2030. Without implausibly large deficits, the only way to preserve most other government programs would be huge tax increases (about 40 percent from today's levels). Avoiding the tax increases would require draconian cuts in other programs (about 60 percent). Workers and young families, not retirees, would bear the brunt of either higher taxes or degraded public services.

Similar pressures, though less ferocious, exist at the state and local levels. Schools, police, libraries and parks will be squeezed by the need to pay benefits for retired government workers. A study by the Pew Charitable Trusts found that states have promised retired workers $2.7 trillion in pension, health care and other benefits during the next three decades. Only about $2 trillion has been set aside; the rest would come from annual budgets.

Read the full article Promises They Can't Keep on The Washington Post's Web site.

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