A staple of Republican rhetoric has been to attack big government and the soaring debt. While many in the GOP have failed to follow through once comfortably ensconced in Washington, other Republican elected officials risked their political careers to do something about it.
For instance, in 2005, then-President George W. Bush proposed reforming Social Security. Mr. Bush promised to preserve benefits for those 55 and older, but he wanted to give younger workers the ability to open private retirement accounts with a tiny portion of their Social Security contributions.
"By 2018, Social Security will owe more in annual benefits than the revenues it takes in, and when today's young workers begin to retire in 2042, the system will be exhausted and bankrupt," read a statement from the Bush White House. "As currently structured, Social Security cannot afford to pay promised benefits to young workers."
Mr. Bush, however, ran into a formidable political opponent — the new Senate Democratic minority leader. His name was Harry Reid.
"We Democrats resolved not to deal, not to compromise, not to amend, but to kill the president's plan to privatize Social Security in 2005," Mr. Reid wrote in his memoir, "The Good Fight."
Former Sen. Harry Reid and his fellow Democrats succeeded. "It is hard to describe the feeling that came over me at this disaster averted," he wrote.
That was hardly a one-time event. Throughout his career, Mr. Reid succeeded numerous times in passing large spending measures while simultaneously demagoguing Republicans whenever they attempted to rein in spending. But now Mr. Reid sees a new apocalypse on the horizon.
"... Republicans don't seem to give a damn about what the debt is," Mr. Reid said. "And, frankly, I don't hear the Democrats raising much hell about it either, and I think that's a mistake. I think the debt is not sustainable."
Yes, it is a mistake. But it's a politically understandable one. Democrats, such as Mr. Reid, as well as Republicans, have spent decades scoring points by insisting that unsustainable entitlement programs, such as Social Security, don't require modifications. Democrats have fought every effort to put the federal government on more secure financial footing by eliminating wasteful spending.
As a result, Republicans have — to their discredit — largely given up the fight as politically unwinnable until a crisis makes reforms unavoidable. The necessary reforms will now be more severe than they would have been if implemented decades ago.
Outside of the tea tasting board — look it up — Mr. Reid would be hard-pressed to identify a single federal spending initiative that he fought to eliminate or simply get under financial control during his more than three decades in Washington. If he seeks to cast blame for the nation's rising debt, he should look in the mirror.
A version of this editorial first appeared in the Las Vegas Journal-Review, a News Herald sister paper with GateHouse Media.
REPRINTED FROM THE PANAMA CITY NEWS HERALD
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