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Judd Gregg: A chance for Trump to be Trump


President Trump’s goal, so often stated and emblazoned on all his hats, is to “Make America Great Again.”

As has been pointed out by many, America is already great. But it is true that there are things that must be fixed in our nation if we are going to prosper.

Unfortunately, most of the president’s initiatives so far are marginal to the structural issues that limit our nation’s economic advancement.

{mosads}There is no doubt that the president’s success in passing a tax restructuring bill which actually encourages growth was a step toward an economically stronger nation.

It is somewhat ironic that the Democrats who oppose this revitalization of tax law do so in the name of opposition to “the greed of corporate America.”

It escapes Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and his socialist cadre that corporate America is owned primarily by working Americans through their pension funds, IRAs and 401ks.

The beneficiaries of the resurgence of corporate America — so actively vilified by the left — are in fact the folks on Main Street America.

It is Americans who benefit from the jobs created and the wealth added to their retirement funds when American businesses — especially small businesses — have a tax law that incentivizes risk-taking and growth rather than suffocating expansion.

The same can be said of Trump and his cabinet’s commitment to paring back the massive federal regulatory machine that was so cossetted and expanded by the left under President Obama.

Trump’s deregulation effort, rather than being an attack on the people of America as the left would have us believe, is instead an effort to liberate the spirit of entrepreneurship that has traditionally made our nation so prosperous.

Despite this progress, however, Trump and the Congress are still ignoring the single biggest threat to our nation’s economic dynamism.

It is the growth of entitlement spending.

We are becoming a dependency state with a government along the lines of the French model.

The deficit will be almost $1 trillion this year. For the rest of the next decade, it will be at least $1 trillion dollars each year. Our national debt will surpass $22 trillion this year and will soon exceed our nation’s gross domestic product.

We are financing the largesse of our elected officials with borrowed dollars and handing an unaffordable IOU to our children and their children.

This is entirely a function of two things: the historic shift that our government has pursued over the last two decades toward an entitlement state; and the retirement of the largest generation in our nation’s history.

Today, 55 percent of Americans receive some form of entitlement payment.

One hundred and twenty million Americans receive two or more types of entitlement payments, and 46 million get funds from three or more programs.

Almost all these programs have a rational and compassionate stated purpose.

But interwoven in all these, there are benefits that are not compassion-based but simply aged-based.

Ninety-five percent of Social Security payments are based on age. Medicare is essentially the same.

The unfunded liability of Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid exceeds the net worth of all Americans — and it is growing.

The cost of all these entitlements is having a significant dampening effect on our nation’s economic growth.

It is impossible to generate productivity and growth if such a huge swath of the population is not merely failing to add to the nation’s productivity but is actually taking away the resources upon which such productivity depends.

It is difficult to foresee how the nation can be more prosperous if such a large segment of the nation depends upon government benefits.

Furthermore, there is a direct link between the vitality of a free market and the availability of capital to fund its expansion. Put simply, the money the government borrows running up all this debt is money that cannot be used to create jobs and expand economic opportunities.

All this debt-driven entitlement is leading us into a cul-de-sac of economic malaise. It will inevitably cause future generations to have a lower standard of living.

It is obviously politically difficult to address entitlement growth. One of the iron rules of politics is that it is easier for elected representatives to give a benefit than to take it away.

But if Trump really wants to clear the road to a better and more prosperous nation, he needs to take on the issue of entitlement spending.

One place to start is with entitlements that are not needs-based but are just tied to people getting older.

{mossecondads}Neither health care nor Social Security should be allowed to continue to parade as if they are insurance programs. They simply are not. Everyone receiving benefits under these programs today is receiving some level of subsidy. Reform can be started by making these entitlements purely needs-based.

In addition, since the most significant expense on the federal ledger is the cost of health care, especially Medicare and Medicaid, these programs should be changed.

Drive down their cost and drive up their quality by ending cost-plus reimbursement; move to cost-containment systems and expand the use of technology to control their costs.

Until now, the president has taken the issues of Medicare, Social Security and entitlements in general off the table. He does not mention them. But they are the elephants in the room that are going to stomp all over his desire to Make America Great Again.

What does he have to lose by doing this?

He seems to enjoy a contest where he confronts conventional wisdom and does the unorthodox.

Nothing could be farther from the Washington norm than addressing the looming fiscal debt crisis by fixing our entitlement society.

It is a chance for Trump to be Trump.

Judd Gregg (R) is a former governor and three-term senator from New Hampshire who served as chairman and ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee, and as ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Foreign Operations subcommittee.

Tags Bernie Sanders budget deficit Donald Trump entitlement spending Fiscal conservatism national debt

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