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viewpoint

Entitled to reform

| Monday, September 14, 2015

It’s time to have a serious and realistic discussion about entitlement reform. Everyone agrees entitlement programs, which refer to governmental aid programs such as Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and unemployment benefits, will have long-term effects on our economy and society. Nonetheless, this consensus isn’t able to keep entitlement programs from halting discussion for political reasons. If, as a country, we take a step back, we’ll find no one is as far away from a compromise as it can sometimes appear.

Entitlement reform is not a sexy topic for anyone who is currently campaigning or plans to do so in the future. If a candidate or official includes it as a speaking point, they run the risk of alienating moderates who may read it as cruel or irresponsible. No one wants to make Grandma have to work until she’s 80. No one wants the government to subsidize laziness. These are both obvious injustices that should not be instituted. Why do people still propose them during any discussion about unemployment benefits and social security? The problem stems from the way we think about differences of opinion among ourselves and among our leaders.

As informed, morally conscious voters, we all want what’s best for the country, both in the present and the future. If entitlement programs continue in their current form, it is estimated the Social Security trust funds will run out by the year 2037 and Medicare will run out as soon as 2026. These programs must be tailored to shoulder the costs of a country with an aging population. At the same time, these programs should not be cut altogether. I don’t want to live in a society that deprives the needy of the aid they sorely need.

The political discussion need not be framed as a struggle between two factions fighting for financial recklessness and the deprivation of basic needs for the less fortunate. We as a society must first prioritize reaching an ideological consensus about what we want our entitlement programs to provide to those that need them. While differences in opinion exist in this area as well, they are smaller than it initially appears when one undertakes a discussion of entitlement reform. Morally conscious individuals must support legislation that helps those who are less fortunate as long as this legislation is practical.

It is ill-advised to enact aid programs so abstract they cannot benefit people with real needs. Funding should always be a consideration. However, money should not be the primary consideration when crafting aid programs. Only after reaching a consensus about the intent of the reform should the debate turn to an examination of what is practical. Experts have valuable information to contribute to the formation of the entitlement programs of the future. It’s nonsensical to say we need to cut entitlement programs because they’re going to fail or we can’t pay for them. There is an intersection between the ideological and the practical where true good is possible. We must first consider the abstract and then the practical, or we risk eliminating a solution that will help those in need. Cost should only constrict aid under the most necessary conditions.

The government should have avenues to help those who can’t help themselves. It is our obligation as a society to determine the most aid we are able to provide in a financially responsible manner and then enact policy that is consistent with this discovery. Something must be done, and it falls on our shoulders to do it. While real world problems call for solutions that apply to  the real world, we cannot allow financial consideration to dominate the discussion and prevent meaningful reform.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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