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Unfortunately, easing these voter concerns entails addressing the runaway costs of federal entitlement programs and their impact on the national debt. Understanding this relationship can best be illustrated through the Holy Trinity of mandatory entitlements: Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.
These programs, which are regulated outside the normal budgeting process, account for up to 41% of all current federal spending, with a projected increase to 62% by the end of the decade. Not included in these figures is the huge anticipated costs attached to the recently passed healthcare reform entitlement.
These programs have become fiscally unsustainable because their enormous cost neatly dovetails alongside a shrinking revenue base. While an increasing number of retiring Baby Boomers, combined with a low national birthrate, has become contributing factors in explaining the diminished tax base, the most glaring culprit can be found in the over 132 million Americans who do not pay income taxes, a figure which equates to almost 43% of the nation’s population. Further compounding the problem is the added fact that nearly 64 million Americans are now dependent for their daily sustenance from government programs.
The Democratic solution to this revenue problem is predictable. Public patience toward tax-and-spend policies seems to have run its course and has opened the door for the GOP to gain handsomely from voter gravitation toward budgetary frugality.
For Republicans, unfortunately, this presents a nasty conundrum in the effort to slay the national debt dragon: which government programs does one slash when nearly two-thirds of Americans are dependent on some type of federal assistance? Put more succinctly: whose ox gets gored in the pursuit of budgetary sanity?
The political challenge the GOP faces is that it will be charged by its anticipated 2010 electoral victory with squaring that nut without tearing apart its new-found political alliance. While the Tea Party has many diverse components, from social conservatives to strict constitutionalists, its underlying commitment to monetary temperance has extended its reach to include large numbers of conservative Democrats and independents.
It’s an uneasy coalition, top heavy with members intolerant with the politics of inaction. Dissatisfied by Republican efforts to effectively reduce the national debt, they might not balk at splintering off and forming a third party, or worse, returning back to a potentially chastened Democratic Party that has been forced back to the center by an electoral drubbing. For the Republican Party, how it rises to this challenge will determine if the 2010 election winds up being nothing more than a pyrrhic victory.
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