Rich Tucker

Right now, somebody is writing an obituary for your local newspaper. However, if it’s in the paper, fewer people than ever will read it. All but two of the 20 largest newspapers lost circulation during the six months that ended in September, and average weekday circulation for all papers fell 2.6 percent.

What explains this drop? Well, sometimes reading the newspaper can be informative, even enlightening. But all too often newspapers fall short of their potential.

As an example from the heartland, consider the lead story in the Nov. 25 Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin. “Proposed budget cuts could hurt New York’s needy,” the paper trumpets, with a banner headline. That’s true, in the same way it would be true to say, “Giant meteor strike could end life on earth” or “Picking winning lottery numbers could be worth millions.” With the word “could,” virtually anything is possible.

But the truth is more mundane. Unfortunately, there are no budget cuts coming. The congressional bill in question story would indeed bring about $53.9 billion in budget savings over the next five years. But it would do that by cutting the rate of growth in programs including Medicaid and food stamps -- not by actually cutting spending on the programs.

And it’s past time to slow the growth of entitlements. Research from The Heritage Foundation shows that since 2000, mandatory federal spending is up 28 percent. Federal funding for Medicaid (which also gets money from states and local governments) is up 56 percent. And food stamps have been especially well financed, with 78 percent growth. Even if the House bill described by the newspaper were to be approved, Medicaid spending over the next five years would still climb by 39 percent.

Instead of wringing our hands over that supposed cut, it would make more sense to ask our lawmakers, “If you can’t trim the growth of spending by even this tiny amount, how are you ever going to manage to balance the federal budget?”  The long-term prospects for Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid are bleak -- Uncle Sam has promised to fork over tens of trillions of dollars to Americans, more money than most of us can even conceive of. But lawmakers haven’t set anything aside to pay for those promises.

Unless we trim spending and reform the way entitlement programs work, the government will eventually have to raise taxes to European levels or back away from its promises. Now, there are two outcomes that would “hurt New York’s needy.”

Rich Tucker

Rich Tucker is a communications professional and a columnist for