EDITORIAL: The hew and cry over Medicaid represents a proxy battle in the larger issue of entitlement reform.

The level of irresponsible discourse characterizing the health-care debate in Washington is both predictable and depressing. And it raises serious doubts about whether our elected officials can ever muster the will to deal with the impending entitlement crisis.

Make no mistake, the hue and cry over Medicaid represents a proxy battle in the larger dispute over entitlement reform. If a modest GOP plan to impose fiscal discipline on a newly expanded federal health care program generates this much mewling and puking on the other side of the aisle, Democrats are signaling that they have no interest in addressing the structural deficiencies threatening the nation’s entitlement programs.

Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid currently gobble up 58 percent of federal taxes — and that number is projected to hit 80 percent in 30 years. Doing nothing is a recipe for budgetary disaster. But the fact that those who risk their political careers to address this looming fiscal calamity are labeled “murderers” and “granny killers” by leftist activists does not bode well for progress on this vital front.

The larger irony, here, is that as these massive entitlements soak up more and more of the government’s revenue stream, they crowd out other endeavors popular with Democrats. “There is no way the U.S. can afford its entitlement commitments without 3 percent growth, much less balance the budget,” the Wall Street Journal noted. That means discretionary programs face additional budgetary scrutiny lest we continue to pile on the debt.

Nor will the progressive siren song of “tax the rich” solve the problem. If the IRS confiscated all income over $1 million, it would barely make a dent in our $4 trillion debt. Massive tax hikes would only further hinder productivity and economic growth, exacerbating the problem while knee-capping U.S. competitiveness. And how “compassionate” is it to endanger through inaction the long-term solvency of Social Security or Medicare?

As former Democratic Sen. Bob Kerrey wrote last month in the Wall Street Journal, Social Security and Medicare “are sustainable politically but not actuarially. Every day 10,000 new beneficiaries become eligible. They love the ‘Do-Nothing Plan’ which has been endorsed by the president and Congress. But every future beneficiary under the age of 45 will choose between a 30 percent cut in benefits or a 40 percent increase in their children’s payroll and income taxes.”

Both the House and Senate GOP health care bill are the first serious attempts in years to gain fiscal control over an open-ended federal spending program. The Democratic reaction should trouble those who recognize that our current fiscal trajectory is simply unsustainable.

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