I think that Ruth Marcus has her finger on the pulse of the American people in this remark about the federal budget:
Don’t call me a deficit hawk. I’m a deficit panda.
If you care about preserving government programs, especially for the most vulnerable, you should be, too.
The taxonomy of the budget debate is unintentionally but dangerously misleading. The term deficit hawk conjures images of a sharp-taloned raptor swooping down on government spending, preying on the defenseless elderly or seizing food from hungry children.
Hence my pitch for a cuddlier image. I would argue that it is possible to be a deficit panda: to simultaneously worry about the debt and believe in an active and compassionate role for government. In fact, I would argue that worrying about the debt is required of those who believe in such a government role.
I think that probably tallies with most people. They’re worried about deficits, borrowing, taxes, but they don’t want to cut Social Security or Medicare.
The unfortunate reality is that it’s the compassionate programs that are in danger of crashing. Social Security was in the red this year with outlays exceeding incomes. Although there are years of IOUs to cash in that doesn’t help the cashflow problem that creates. We’ll still need to raise taxes or borrow to pay the bills. Components of the Medicare system were in the red, too, have been for some time, and the situation there will only get worse. Neither Republican nor Democratic administrations have the guts to raise income taxes and there is some point at which the borrowing will become catastrophic.
We should show compassion to those most in need of compassion but not confuse that with maintaining the present systems at all costs. The present systems are on life support.