The only practical way to avert the looming crisis is to reduce or delay benefits, if not for everyone, at least for some beneficiaries. But politicians are wary of taking on seniors even though, in practical terms, any changes would likely affect people who aren't yet close to retirement age. And that's the problem with virtually every government program on the books. Every program has its constituency.
If Democrats and Republicans are serious about working together for the good of the country, they can begin by putting together a bipartisan group of legislators whose task it will be to come up with serious cuts in discretionary spending and entitlement reform. But doing so will mean both parties will have to get beyond the usual blame game. Democrats will have to quit pretending that Republicans want to punish poor people and the elderly, and Republicans will have to recognize that no program or agency -- not even the Defense Department, the Veterans administration, or Immigration and Customs Enforcement -- should be spared from achieving savings.
If spending cuts are voted on separately, we can expect the same gamesmanship by interest groups that always carries the day. The AARP will scream about even minor adjustments to programs for seniors; unions will decry cutbacks in unemployment benefits or reductions in job training money; the education lobby will bemoan the failure to continually expand federal funding for education programs from early childhood through graduate school; defense contractors will claim every new weapons program is vital to national security.
The only way forward is for congressional leaders to put together an agreed-to package of cuts and entitlement reforms that will be voted on as a unit. This will require real cooperation -- and leadership -- not just feel-good rhetoric about restoring civility.
The best tribute her colleagues could give Rep. Gabrielle Giffords -- a Democrat who has often crossed party lines to vote in the best interests of all the people -- would be to pass a bipartisan budget that gets America back on the path to fiscal responsibility.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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