Editorials

Tea party drowning in sea of hypocrisy

I'm done trying to hack through the tea party thicket of self-contradiction, self-delusion and self-serving positions. My last straw is Rand Paul, a tea party favorite and now Republican nominee for senator from Kentucky.

What damns Paul wasn't the flap over his views on the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Presumably, Paul isn't a racist. He's just a privileged white guy -- a doctor and son of 11-term congressman Ron Paul.

What makes Rand Paul so exasperating is his crashing hypocrisy on Medicare. The hero to the cause of smaller government and balanced budgets vows not to touch Medicare -- the biggest and fastest-growing expense on the federal balance sheet. Rand's compromised stance reflects the political necessity of keeping the tea party people happy. The group is heavy with older folk, who have carefully drawn a line of self-interest around the king of government entitlements, Medicare.

Here's a sample view from a leader of the Rhode Island tea party: "We understand that the federal government cannot take $500 billion out of Medicare and provide the same medical services to our elderly, all the while offering health care to 30 million new people, without a vast increase in the number of providers, the imposition of massive new taxes and/or the rationing of care."

The new health care legislation does not cut a single guaranteed Medicare benefit. It actually expands the offerings to include screening services and closing the drug-benefit doughnut hole. The savings are from ending overpayments to the private Medicare Advantage plans.

As for "the massive new taxes," would the tea party folk please tell us where they are? The public should note that money for the new health care legislation is honestly allocated. That can't be said of the Republicans' 2003 Medicare drug benefit

Our tea party spokeswoman goes on to claim that, in any case, "we paid" for Medicare. Oh, really?

It happens that Medicare payroll taxes provide 40 percent of the program's funding and premiums another 12 percent. The remaining 39 percent comes from general revenues (mostly income taxes). Much of the payroll and income taxes are borne by people who won't live long enough to collect benefits themselves. Today's young taxpayers will never see the level of benefits that they are now subsidizing.

What is the extent of the support? A typical couple retiring in 2020 will have paid about $100,000 in lifetime Medicare taxes but will receive $500,000 in scheduled Medicare benefits. This is according to C. Eugene Steuerle, a tax policy expert at the Urban Institute.

I asked Steuerle about the income taxes that many Medicare beneficiaries paid and continue to pay. He responded that "given the large deficits we're running and the benefit level relative to previous or current tax levels, there's still no doubt that current generations are being subsidized by future generations."

My question to the tea party's lovers of liberty: If you really think you've paid for Medicare and hate big government, why don't you demand that this expensive program be ended?

Harrop is a syndicated columnist.

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