Listening to what passes as political discourse these days, I hear much about “entitlement programs.” Recently on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” one segment was titled “Managing entitlements: Fixing Medicare and Medicaid.” I am new to the Medicare and Social Security programs, but I do understand the issues we, as a country, face with declining revenues and increasing outlays. I learned during this segment that the Social Security system is a trust fund that relied on general funds in 2012 to make up nearly $50 billion in revenue shortfall.
It is clear that something must be done to alleviate this problem. But I might like to see the definition of entitlement programs expanded somewhat so that we can look at them all in the same bright light of day. A quick Web search of U.S. entitlement programs yields a list of 19 items. In addition to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, the list includes “529” programs (tax advantaged college savings plan), the home mortgage interest deduction, student loans, unemployment insurance, the G.I. Bill, Head Start, food stamps and others.
Giving only cursory thought to this list, additional items might well include: preferred tax rates on capital gains, deductibility of health care premiums paid by employers, farm subsidies, exempt status of payment to retirement plans, exempt status of payments made to HSA plans, deductibility of business travel and business meals, preferential tax status of not-for-profit groups, estate tax exemptions and corporate personhood affording certain rights under the U.S. Constitution.
If we are going to take an honest look at reducing the debt without raising income tax rates on our population, then it only makes sense to have an open discussion on those items that truly make up the full scope of entitlements — for everyone.
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