Their reluctance to call for entitlement cuts is politically understandable: Older people vote and don't like the prospect of Medicare cuts. But taking Medicare off the budget-cutting agenda forsakes one?s credibility as a fiscal hawk. Medicare faces $36 trillion in unfunded promises. Social Security adds $4.3 trillion. As Shikha Dalmia writes in Forbes, "By 2052, Uncle Sam's three entitlement programs -- Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid -- will consume all federal tax revenues, leaving nothing for government?s core, constitutional functions."
OK, congressmen and would-be congressmen are just politicians. But the tea party is supposed to be different. It stands for fiscal responsibility, spending cuts and deficit reduction. A New York Times poll found that 92 percent of tea partiers said they would rather have a ?smaller government providing fewer services? than a ?bigger government providing more services.? That?s encouraging. But when it comes to specifics, the results aren?t as good. The poll found that 62 percent thought ?the benefits from government programs such as Social Security and Medicare are worth the costs.? A Bloomberg poll found that most tea partiers ?want more drug benefits for Medicare patients.? And when was the last time you heard tea partiers complaining about the exploding military budget?
Strangely, in other questions, tea partiers did seem willing to accept cuts in domestic entitlement programs if it meant smaller government. The contradictory answers don?t bode well for the time when lobbyists for well-organized special interests mount their passionate attacks against cuts.
You just cannot be committed to cutting government if you would leave two of the costliest programs intact.
It's exciting to know that by the time you read this, the Republicans will have probably retaken the House. Divided government historically spends less than governments under one-party control. But if the people who most loudly demand smaller government can?t deliver a clear message on the biggest sources of government spending, the fiscal future of the country is in trouble.