Entitlements Are Not a Sacrament

Over at The American Prospect, the forum on entitlements has reached its sixth day with an essay by the ever-insightful Mark Schmitt, who asks progressives to keep their eyes on the broader prize of progressive governance and not let defense of entitlement programs become an end in itself. It’s a particularly important lesson to learn at a time when we have to set priorities on a large battlefield where conservatives are perpetually on the offensive. Here’s how Mark sums up the risk:

[A]fter three years of budgetary trench warfare, in which Republicans don’t budge from blind opposition to tax cuts, and Democrats hold entitlements off the table, the results are quite clear – one category remains vulnerable, and it’s no accident that non-defense discretionary spending is now on track to reach just 2.9% of GDP in a few years. That’s the lowest level for that budget category in more than half a century and barely half of the peak, in the early 1980s. Anything progressives can do to break this cycle of cuts to domestic spending and investment, which really does represent theft of economic potential from the future, we should embrace. And that starts with treating the big entitlements as what they are: a budget category, not a sacrament.

Treating entitlements with less reverence might, Schmitt suggests, even make it easier to re-envision them in a more progressive light, such as Social Security offering significantly higher benefits to offset the loss of pensions, but with more rigorous means-testing. If such thoughts are deemed heretical and all “entitlement reforms” are sacrilege, such opportunities could be lost.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.