Weigel: Talking entitlement reform

Republican leadership has revived the notion that reforming entitlement programs is necessary to balance the budget. As tough as it will be to do for political reasons, cutting entitlement spending is justified in the name of fiscal discipline.


Zach Weigel, Opinion Columnist

“Entitlement.” It may be a simple word, but it’s sure a provoking word.

Partly, the provoking nature of the word stems from one way in which it is frequently used: to castigate those who are believed to be self-absorbed and deserving of special privileges. For instance, you’ve probably heard something along the lines of “today’s kids are so entitled” tossed around, perhaps by Gen Xers to lambaste millennials or by millennials to denigrate today’s kids — Gen Z. It’s an adage that older generations always seem to launch at younger generations in an effort to persuade them that things were “much rougher back in my day.”

However, adding the letter “s” to the end of the word “entitlement” can make it even more provoking. It causes people to think about government-provided social services such as Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare. You know, those FICA taxes that are withheld from everybody’s paychecks.

Nonetheless, while talk about entitlement and entitlements can be provoking, I do believe that our country needs to tackle entitlement reform. And it appears that the Republican Party may be on board to potentially take a stab at it.

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Amid all the hubbub of the nonstop news cycle, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell gave breath to the notion that Congress may try to shore up the growing budget deficit saying, “There’s been a bipartisan reluctance to tackle entitlement changes because of the popularity of those programs. Hopefully, at some point here, we’ll get serious about this.”

Plus, President Trump’s top economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, has been quoted saying the Trump administration will “probably tackle” entitlement reform next year.

Now, talk of reforming entitlement programs is not new. In fact, ever since the Reagan administration is the 1980s, the Republican Party has talked about reforming programs that dole out benefits to Americans. For instance, Reagan popularized the term “welfare queen” to describe Americans who he perceived to be lazily living off of government handouts.

More to the point, outgoing House Speaker Paul Ryan has long been a firm believer in drug testing welfare recipients as a two-pronged approach to encourage people to be drug-free while also curtailing the amount of money that the government doles out to Americans through welfare programs.

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So, there have been attempts to try to reform welfare programs in the past, yet these reform efforts have mostly amounted to all talk and little action for one pretty big reason: reforming entitlement programs is political suicide. No politician wants to be the one who takes things away from people. Every politician wants to be the person who provides things for her or his constituents — things such as funding and positive publicity.

Cutting entitlement programs — programs that provide essential services and benefits — would lead to fewer Americans receiving these services and benefits. That means a smaller retirement, a shorter time-frame for unemployment benefits, and more strict stipulations for Medicare and Medicaid eligibility. That’s a tough sell for a politician.

Yet, I agree with Republican leadership, who are in favor of looking past the optics of reforming entitlement spending and believe in shoring up the budget. As bad as cutting entitlements is, it is what our nation’s politicians will have to do if we ever expect to have a budget surplus rather than a budget deficit.

Being a politician is tough and adhering to fiscal discipline is even tougher when it causes cuts to crucial welfare programs that help people. Hopefully, enough politicians in Washington can work together in a bipartisan manner to achieve entitlement reform in an effort to fix the budget. Cutting services and benefits is a tough pill to swallow — especially for those who receive those services and benefits — and a tough sell for a politician. Yet at the end of the day, sadly, it is necessary to balance the budget.