Dictionary Battles Are So Much Fun

a book with the title of Dictionary

One aspect of the current fake fiscal cliff argument and one that has existed since the 2012 elections (and I would say long before that) is the need of the GOP to want to cut “entitlement” programs. How they frame that argument points to how dishonest Republicans can be in budget battles. It is all about the window dressing and nothing about the contents.

During the current debate about the fake fiscal cliff, one of the issues we have been hearing about “entitlement reform” which include any government program for the poor, seniors, and the disabled. 

“We all know what drives federal spending is the entitlement programs and so far we’ve seen no proposal from the president – no meaningful proposal – when it comes to reforming entitlement programs and getting putting them on a sustainable path,” said Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., the third-ranking Senate Republican.

In a statement after meeting Thursday with Obama’s fiscal cliff negotiator, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell said, “To date, the administration has remained focused on raising taxes and attending campaign-style events, with no specific plans to protect Medicare and Social Security or reduce our national debt in a meaningful way.”

House Speaker John Boehner isn’t insisting on specific entitlement cuts before Dec. 31. What he wants, he told reporters Thursday, is Obama’s agreement on “setting up a process for entitlement reform next year.”

Republicans protest Obama inaction on entitlements but ignore previous proposals

The focus on “entitlements” is a frame that Republicans use to justify cutting programs needed by those who actually need the help. They try to make it seem that people who use these programs don’t deserve by focusing on the root of the word “entitled” as if getting social security or medicare is a right or one is entitled to it like a selfish teenager whining about getting a Prius instead of the Escalade they wanted.

This isn’t an old argument. Here is an example from 2010:

In a letter he sent to Republican colleagues seeking their support for his bid as majority leader, Eric Cantor writes that Congress is going to have to start figuring out how to curb entitlement spending.

“Getting our long-term deficit under control will require that we address major entitlement reform. It is a conversation that we must have, but one that is easier said than done. President Obama, congressional Democrats, and their liberal allies have made it abundantly clear that they will attack anyone who puts forward a plan that even tries to begin a conversation about the tough choices that are needed.”

A difficult conversation indeed

Republicans think that entitlements are debatable when in fact those programs are insurance programs.

No one would say one is entitled to car insurance unless one pays for it and people pay into Social Security and Medicare just like people pay for car insurance. That is what FICA is on your paycheck.

I really don’t have an issue if the talk is about tweaking the programs to be more efficient and cost effective without wholesale changes to those on the programs now or in the future. Making an argument that people some how don’t deserve the help is the wrong way to tweak things. Creating a voucher program for “premium-support” is not a tweak – that is a wholesale change.

The more factual term to call the “entitlements” Republicans whine about is “earned benefits”. The Republicans really want to take away your earned benefits but make sure they keep their earned benefits.