Hoover Daily Report

Entitlements Always Grow And Grow

via Wall Street Journal
Monday, January 3, 2022
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Sen. Joe Manchin’s emphatic “no” to the current version of Build Back Better put the bill on life support. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, having promised a Senate vote, now must try to maintain the bill’s progressive priorities—including a raft of new and expanded entitlement programs—while shrinking its cost to meet Mr. Manchin’s concerns. A revised bill would almost certainly attempt to disguise the cost of these entitlements by making them initially less-generous. Experience teaches that no matter how slimmed-down the initial provision, an entitlement’s costs grow inexorably over time.

The history of U.S. entitlements is a 230-year record of continuous expansion and liberalization. The first major entitlement, Revolutionary War disability benefits, was initially restricted to members of the Continental Army and Navy who were injured in battle and survivors of those killed in wartime. Eligibility was then expanded, first to state militia soldiers, then to veterans whose disabilities were unrelated to wartime service, and eventually to virtually all people who served during the war regardless of disability.

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Entitlements grow over time because of a force called “the equally worthy claim,” where eligibility for benefits continually expands until programs no longer resemble their initial, honorable intentions. Over time, entitlements programs have grown into a costly and complex system. Reforms should focus on preserving the programs’ original intentions and putting them back on a sustainable fiscal path.