The other night, the leader of one of America’s great political parties came forth with a big “but” that ought to be noticed.
“But,” the president said in his speech to Congress, “here’s the truth.” And he then talked about Medicare.
It’s been little-noticed that Barack Obama was saying some things that many in his own party don’t want to hear about Medicare.
“Millions of Americans rely on Medicare in their retirement. And millions more will do so in the future,” Obama said. “They pay for this benefit during their working years. They earn it. But with an aging population and rising health-care costs, we are spending too fast to sustain the program.”
That kind of statement ought to be welcomed by Republicans, some of whom have been pilloried for saying similar things and backing a tough-on-Medicare budget resolution.
Of course, some of the same GOP members had dubiously trashed Obama’s health-care bill last year as anti-Medicare, too.
The “but” was important, a political path to changes in Medicare to make it more sustainable before the financial tidal wave of baby boomer retirements breaks the health-care system for everyone.
It’s refreshing to hear a calm set of “buts” that don’t end the conversation with some political statement. As the president said, “If we don’t gradually reform the system while protecting current beneficiaries, it won’t be there when future retirees need it. We have to reform Medicare to strengthen it.”
True, people do pay into Medicare, although they generally get back much more in terms of benefits. But reforms in the practice of medicine — not just for the elderly, but particularly for Medicare — can provide not only savings to the program, but savings to the health costs of those continuing to work to support the older generation.
We would like to see more times when national leaders call for practical solutions that avoid the name-calling that brings politics down to the level of the elementary schoolyard.