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The union's troubled state

January 27, 2011 - Mike Maneval
Shortly before addressing Washington's political class and the nation, on Tuesday, President Barack Obama announced curtailing Social Security benefits or raising the age of eligibility would be off the table. The news is troubling for at least two reasons. But by the end of the night, Americans worried about the nation's deficits had many reasons to feel troubled.

Social Security, as I've explored in the past, was designed at a time when lower average life expectancy reflected in Social Security recipients drawing benefits for a smaller percentage of their lives. But beyond the costly creep of Social Security into paying more benefits out to recipients for a bigger number of years, Obama's move also is problematic because the restraint had been urged by the deficit commission for which he himself had called - and a call proceeding any effective commitment to other measures amid the commission's recommendations. The president's move is a green light for other critics of the commission's deficit-reduction policies to lead with what they won't support instead of what they might. And so the list of deficit-reduction approaches the U.S. may try will begin to shrink and shrink.

In the course of the State of the Union address, the president endorsed closing loopholes and ending some of the quirks of preferential treatment with which our tax code is riddled. As an olive branch, Obama said he'd support using the increase in revenue to pay for an across-the-board cut in the corporate tax rates. And so yet another opportunity to reduce the debt slips away. Overall, in the words of Linda Feldmann of the Christian Science Monitor, "Obama played down the steep fiscal challenge ahead born of unsustainable federal spending." In addition to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are protected from bearing the pain our debt and spending deficit will visit upon us yet. A vague spending freeze on discretionary spending unrelated to national security was contradicted by the more frequent and forceful calls for investment in technological research and education, worthy goals still perhaps best addressed after ending corporate welfare and cutting entitlement spending have sufficiently freed up revenues.

But then, with Obama's State of the Union address as short on specifics and long on cliche as every modern president's State of the Union address, Obama's investment goals may themselves prove to be corporate welfare, albeit of a more green-tinged variety. Yes, the State of the Union gave plenty of reasons for Americans to feel troubled.

 
 

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