WAS it depressing, or just depressingly familiar, when David Leonhardt told Stephen Colbert Tuesday night that "Medicare is by far the dominant source of our deficit"? Leonhardt has a Pulitzer for his work explaining the intricacies of the economic system, yet he can't be bothered to look.
And sure, sure, he meant well. He meant we have to get health care costs under control. He meant we have to raise taxes to pay for the shit we buy. He wasn't calculating how many poor people can die in the streets before the stench starts wafting over to some of our tonier gated communities.
But he's fucking dead wrong, and wrong seven ways from Sunday.
Medicare--it provides less than half the medical expenses of its beneficiaries, the elderly and the disabled--is 13% of the Federal budget. Total Medicare spending in 2009 was $484 billion. In 2009 the total interest on the National Debt attributable to military spending was $390 billion. That's the interest we pay on all things military (including VA costs and military pensions) for having acted, since 1946, as though it were perpetually 1944.
Our ten Nimitz-class supercarriers represent a $450 billion collection of holes in the ocean in construction costs alone; they're scheduled to be replaced by 2040 by an equal number of Gerald Ford-class hulks at twice the cost, assuming you believe 2005 estimates, which you shouldn't. That's construction costs. Not development, nor maintenance, nor upgrades, attendant fleet, staffing, planes, aviation fuel, or the cost someone will eventually bear to do something with the twin reactors when we don't need 'em anymore. That's our supercarrier Navy. No one else in the world has any. Their role is to intimidate tenth-rate military powers, since we haven't figured out how to invade any on the ground.
Which is distinct from figuring out why we need to invade any, since that answer is either too amorphous to pin down, or too brutally self-reflective to ever see the light of newsprint.
Why in the world would someone like David Leonhardt make this mistake? Is it because, as a Reagantot (born 1973) he's spent his entire life being lied to about it? Medicare, like Social Security, is a trust. You pay a separate tax bill into the fund. Eliminate it altogether and you get that portion of your taxes back, and good luck saving it for when you can't work. This has been lumped into the "social spending" category--public health, hospitals, schools--by the American Right and Democratic centrists since the Vietnam war, in order to insist it was The Great Society, and not a wasteful and useless jungle conflict, which was destroying the US economy. It's an argument disguised as a fact, and apparently no one born after the Nixon administration can be bothered to notice. Fer chrissakes, we spent nearly $700 billion on "Defense" in 2010 not including the costs of however many wars we're in now, and that's if you believe it's the one thing the government doesn't lie about. Subsuming this as "national security" is like imagining Wal*Mart is the most successful Mom & Pop hardware store in the country.
Look, children: you've been sold a bill of goods, including the confusion of the honor of military service with the less-that-honorable uses to which it's been put over the last sixty years. You got sold the idea that the war in Vietnam was divisive because dirty hippies spit on returning veterans, and not because the goddam thing was a lie from beginning to end which a large portion of the citizenry slowly came to realize, and object to. There's nothing in this country so bloated and wasteful as our military budget; there's no government expenditure anywhere else in the world that begins to match it. Caring for our elderly and disabled citizens is not a discretionary item; it's a measure of our humanity. I don't know how the argument got so twisted, but I do know that a moment's thought should be enough to untangle it.
And so long as we're here, could we just mention something else? Namely, that even if you buy the "conservative" "argument" this shit doesn't work, or even make sense. If "social spending" was the sole, or even the largest portion, of our budgetary woes, then it ought to be reformed. If doing so is too much for our career legislators, we ought to encourage them in the most direct fashion to find new careers. Anyone who believes the same party which hit the fucking roof because its own man--Bob Gates--proposed scrapping so worthless a piece of military marital aid as the F-22 is not going to address the real problem. We're fucked. We've been fucked since Ronald Reagan tore down the solar panels on the White House. At least we could get the history right while we swirl down the drain.