(cross-posted from The Progessive Pulse)
Question: If you are conservative, what do you call your government's future obligations?
Answer: Unfunded Liabilities.
If we've learned nothing else from George Lakoff and the "Death Tax," we should recognize the importance of framing the debate. The Right is constantly in a froth over the projected 75 year costs of Social Security and Medicare. As long as they are going to get all hysterical about our government's future obligations, we should ask them why they conveniently forget to include our largest "unfunded liability"...national defense. A plausible argument is made here that military expenses for the federal government are greater than non-military expenses.
Is the cost of life-long care for an Iraq War veteran with TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury...the "signature wound" of the Iraq War) any less of an unfunded liability than the care of Grandpa Joe in a vegetative state after his stroke? Or...are the future military pensions of today's Iraq War veterans any less of an unfunded liability than our obligation to pay baby boomer Social Security checks? I don't think so.
As Robert Kuttner says in his superb new book The Squandering of America:
Nobody doubts that the Pentagon will continue spending hundreds of billions of dollars a year to defend (and occasionally jeopardize) America's security. Project this assumption forward seventy-five years, and you have an "unfunded liability" in the tens of trillions of dollars. But as long as the U.S, government is in business, there is little doubt that taxes will be collected and the Pentagon will be paid. Likewise for the mandated payouts under Social Security and Medicare.
So, the next time one of your right-wing friends is afflicted with Entitlement Hysteria over Social Security and Medicare, just tell them the programs are at least as secure as the mother of all entitlements...national defense. We could shore up the finances for Social Security and Medicare in a heartbeat with a simple nip and tuck from the defense budget. Another way of looking at it is that the projected long-term shortfall for Social Security is exactly equal to the Bush tax cuts on the wealthiest 1% of Americans.
Our government's future obligations are an ideological argument...not a financial disaster.
Addendum: Our North Carolina Senator Elizabeth Dole is so bullish on the future of our national defense entitlement that she has proposed a joint resolution that requires a minimum of 4% of GDP be used for defense spending. When there's a will, there's a way.
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