Congress reconvened last week after a month long break. The fall agenda is packed with items such as tax reform, the debt ceiling, DACA and various spending bills.
Conspicuously absent from the list is entitlement reform.
Of course, it’s folly these days to assume that Republicans and Democrats could bridge the massive political divisions dominating the legislative landscape to reach a consensus on such a vital issue. But the nation’s long-term fiscal health will eventually depend upon it. And each year that passes without a solution only brings us closer to the looming cliff.
In his new book, “The High Cost of Good Intentions,” Stanford economics professor John F. Cogan chronicles how we arrived at a point where the nation is $20 trillion in debt and federal entitlements now constitute more than half of all spending. In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Mr. Cogan notes that the urge to win votes by doling out goodies is a temptation that few politicians of either party can resist.
The author points out that in 1873, just 8,000 Civil War veterans collected pensions. By the 1890s, that number had risen to about 1 million and accounted for 40 percent of all federal outlays. It seems Congress kept expanding the eligibility requirements.
Mr. Cogan’s research into Revolutionary War pensions found “exactly the same pattern,” he said.
Mr. Cogan also describes a similar model for Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare and food stamps. “It’s a step-by-step expansion,” he told the Journal. “Each expansion tends to be permanent. And each expansion then serves as a base upon which Congress considers the next expansion.”
The Obama administration’s Medicaid enlargement — a key point of contention in the recent health care debate — is a prime example. Ditto for the Social Security disability program, which Mr. Cogan points out originally applied only to those 50 or older who were unable to work at all. “Gradually, Congress eliminated the age requirement,” the Journal reports. “Then lawmakers allowed benefits for temporary disabilities.” The number of beneficiaries has quadrupled since the mid-1980s.
Mr. Cogan offers no hard-and-fast solution for tackling these issues. But he does say that any fix will require a combination of presidential leadership, bipartisan cooperation and an agreement among both politicians and the general public that “there’s a problem.”
None of those conditions exists in Washington today, which explains why the appetite to reform entitlements is nonexistent among the political elite. But let’s hope Mr. Cogan’s tome at least helps keep the issue in the spotlight until the harsh fiscal realities finally penetrate the Beltway’s financial fantasyland.
I paid our Queensbury School property taxes today and sure enough they had increased exactly 2 percent over last year’s which is the maximum amount of increase allowed under state regulations. This seems to be a little game the district plays, whereas many other districts hold the line on budgets and come under the state maximum for their tax increases, Queensbury seems to hit the max almost every year. This means in 10 years they will have raised their taxes on homeowners 20 percent. One wonders how many of these homeowners have had a 20 percent increase in income in the past 10 years. With our flat economy, it poses an interesting question, and one wonders why the school district seems to continue to play this game. Perhaps it feels it is in competition with other schools such as Shenendehowa, which has a far larger tax base. Perhaps it thinks of itself as a quasi community college rather than a grade school/high school combination that is forever spending huge amounts of money on upgrades to its facilities that appear to be perfectly adequate for its enrollments. Queensbury even has a traffic circle within its campus, which I have been told is too small for its new fleet of 40 passenger buses to negotiate.
One wonders why the Queensbury School taxpayers do not get together one year and vote down the school’s excessive spending by voting down just one of their excessive budgets. Perhaps such a move might give the school board some pause in the 20 percent game they play every 10 year business cycle at the expense of their taxpaying property owners.
Steve Decker, Queensbury
Thank you all. On behalf of the J.A. Barkley Hose Co., I want to thank everyone that helped out to work in any position at the Washington County Fair, Argyle food chicken booth. When we ask for help in any way, the community and beyond come together for our cause. The Washington County chicken/food booth is our main fundraiser of the year and has been successful for many years because folks like you all from Argyle and beyond come together to make it happen each and every year. We as a fire department family, firefighters, fire police, officers, life members, support members, honorary members and our auxiliary members, want to say it is heartwarming to see the volunteers join together to work, play and have fun. When I look out and see you volunteers working together it makes me realize that it is not just a group of people helping out, I see a big family joining together to work and for most have fun while helping out at our, yes I said our, fair booth each and every year.
I want to thank the Argyle Central School Young Life Group, Glens Falls National Bank, brothers and sisters from Hartford Fire Department, the Washington County Fire Police Association; but most of all, each and every person that gave their time and help in any way to make this successful every year. Thank you all for your time you give to us to keep the fair booth in operation. One other thing, this would not happen if you fair comers do not buy our dinners and food year after year. Thank you all again. Keep coming and stay safe. Yes we have to do it again in 2018. See you then.
Rich Gordon, J.A. Barkley Hose Company, Argyle
I recently moved to Albany (from Queensbury) and this has made me sincerely appreciate the service The Post-Star provides to the Glens Falls area. Technically, the Albany area has the Times Union, but the local level reporting and responsiveness of The Post-Star is superior. I know it’s a local pastime to rag on The Post-Star, one I am guilty of, but I’m not sure what the community would do without that local level reporting and responsiveness.
I just wanted to say thank you.
Cassandra Passinault-Caputo, Albany