Interesting and unsurprising poll data from the Associated Press reveals that substantial majorities of Americans oppose Paul Ryan-style Medicare reform or cuts to Social Security. The public also considers the two programs highly important.
Overall, 70 percent in the poll said Social Security is "extremely" or "very" important to their financial security in retirement, and 72 percent said so for Medicare. Sixty-two percent said that both programs are extremely or very important.
This is the basic dilemma of modern American politics, as you already know. Large majorities support balancing the budget…and oppose raising taxes, meaningfully cutting defense spending, altering Social Security or Medicare, or doing much of anything else that would bring the budget closer to balanced.
There is almost a temptation to feel bad for our elected officials – damned if they do, damned if they don't. The public howls about the deficit but won't accept cuts to anything except programs that we imagine to be large but are actually insignificant (foreign aid, NPR, etc.) and the usual killing of the draft animals (education, social welfare, etc.) Combined, these cuts make hardly a dent in the problem. The temptation to pity them evaporates when one realizes why they inevitably drift toward "solutions" like these. Even among the unpopular solutions, why would they propose something like Medicare cuts – let's be honest, even the GOP knows this is political suicide – before tax increases, defense spending cuts, and so on?
The answer is pretty obvious: because when the chips are down, they will stab you in the back at the drop of the hat. They don't care about you, regardless of party. You are not important. They would rather try to ram Medicare reform down your throat than to bite the Pentagon and Wall Street hands that feed them or raise taxes on their own income bracket. The choice between cutting Social Security and lifting the payroll tax cap (without which Social Security would be solvent in perpetuity) is no choice at all. The default solution is always, always to throw you under the bus.
You can learn a lot about someone when you force them to make choices, eliminating the natural tendency of individuals to take the path of least resistance and please everyone. If I have four cats and I tell you I love them all equally, that doesn't tell you much. If the house is on fire and I can only save one of them, you're about to find out which one I actually love the most. In flush times our elected officials will gladly appease us – doing so is good politics and the path of least resistance. If the money is there to pay for everyone's wants (see: 1950-1970), why not just pay for it all? When reality demands selectivity, we quickly discover what and who really matter.
Our elites are slowly discovering that they need to touch one of the untouchables: raising taxes, cutting the Dept. of Defense, or cutting SS/Medicare. Faced with three politically unappealing choices, it's quite revealing to see which one people like Paul Ryan and Obama's catfood commission decided to bite the bullet and endorse.