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George Will Goes Off the Reservation

Image via Politico

From Will’s Friday column in The Washington Post:

The election-eve mood is tinged with sadness stemming from well-founded fear that America’s new government is subverting America’s old character. Barack Obama’s agenda is a menu of temptations intended to change the nation’s social norms by making Americans comfortable with the degradation of democracy. This degradation consists of piling up public debt that binds unconsenting future generations to finance current consumption.

So argues Nicholas Eberstadt, an economist and demographer at American Enterprise Institute, in “A Nation of Takers: America’s Entitlement Epidemic.” This booklet could be Mitt Romney’s closing argument.

Beginning two decades after the death of Franklin Roosevelt, who would find today’s government unrecognizable, government became a geyser of entitlements. In 2010, government at all levels transferred more than $2.2 trillion in money, goods and services to recipients — $7,200 per individual, almost $29,000 per family of four. Before 1960, only in the Depression years of 1931 and 1935 did federal transfer payments exceed other federal expenditures. During most of FDR’s 12 presidential years, income transfers were a third or less of federal spending. But between 1960 and 2010, entitlements exploded from 28 percent to 66 percent of federal spending. By 2010, more than 34 percent of households were receiving means-tested benefits. Republicans were more than merely complicit, says Eberstadt:

“The growth of entitlement spending over the past half-century has been distinctly greater under Republican administrations than Democratic ones. Between 1960 and 2010, the growth of entitlement spending was exponential — but in any given year, it was on the whole over 8 percent higher if the president happened to be a Republican rather than a Democrat. . . . The Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford and George W. Bush administrations presided over especially lavish expansions of the entitlement state.”

Why, then, should we expect Romney to reverse Republican complicity? Because by embracing Paul Ryan, Romney embraced Ryan’s emphasis on the entitlement state’s moral as well as financial costs. {Emphasis added}

Over at The American Conservative, Daniel Larison lays out the evidence to the contrary — something George Willfully (pun intended) ignores:

[Will] thinks we should expect fiscal responsibility from a Romney administration because Romney has “embraced” Paul Ryan. This is the same Paul Ryan whose record is littered with votes in favor of every major Bush-era piece of legislation, including several that added significantly to the debt and one in particular that added trillions more to the government’s unfunded liabilities.

Ryan was complicit in the largest expansion of the welfare state in a generation when he voted for Medicare Part D, and it was done entirely at the expense of future generations. This is a perfect example of “piling up public debt that binds unconsenting future generations to finance current consumption.” When it comes to “mugging our descendants,” the members of Congress responsible for passing Medicare Part D take first prize. If this degrades our political system, Ryan was on the side of degradation until very recently.

Before he became a fiscal conservative hero in the last two years, Ryan was a typical Bush-era Republican with all of the considerable baggage that goes with it. The idea that we can trust a Romney administration to be better fiscal stewards than most of their Republican predecessors is to ignore everything we know about how Republicans typically act once in power. Assuming that Ryan’s presence in that administration is some sort of guarantee of fiscal responsibility is simply the triumph of hope over experience.

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