The future of Social Security and Medicare came to life on Tuesday night at New York University's Skirball Center, after Mort Zuckerman, Chairman and Editor-in-Chief of U.S. News and World Report and Margaret Hoover, Fox News commentator presented their right-leaning positions against Howard Dean, former DNC Chairman and governor of Vermont and Jeff Madrick, editor of Challenge Magazine represented the Liberal posture.
Attracting a predominantly Liberal-minded audience, the debate, titled "Grandma's Benefits Imperil Junior's Future" was hosted by Intelligence Squared Debates
, an Oxford-style debate production company chaired by philanthropist Robert Rosenkranz
Rosenkranz opened the session, framing the debate for the audience and for the panelists alike.
"One shocking statistic is that 37 percent of those who came of age in this millennium are unemployed," Rosenkranz said. "When consumers lack the confidence to spend, when businessmen lack the confidence to invest and to hire, it is the young that suffer most. The health insurance debate focused on the uninsured. But think for a moment about how health insurance is priced. Almost everywhere the young pay the same premium as their more illness prone elders. A massive subsidy for the old paid for by the young. Tens of millions of young people quite reasonably said no thanks to health insurance until the government mandated that they say yes."
The motion was that the young are being asked to sacrifice financially for the entitlement programs of the elderly, and the Conservative panelists argued in favor of that motion.
"Arithmetic still matters," Zuckerman began. "Medicaid now pays for both health and long term care for roughly 55 million Americans. It finances more than one third of all births in the United States, and pays the cost of almost two thirds of the people in nursing homes. The federal government underwrites 50 to 77 percent of the cost, depending on the income level of each state. Even so, Medicaid is the second biggest and fastest growing
category of state spending. Costs are up more than 60 percent in the last five years and are expected to exceed $450 billion this year and to keep growing by about eight percent annually for the next decade. In the next -- by the mid-2030s, the 65 and over population will nearly double, and health care costs, which have been rising far faster than worker productivity since the end of World War II, may be completely out of control, resulting in a tidal wave of federal spending."
But the Liberal camp did not see America's entitlement programs as something that needs significant renovation.
"The elderly used to be the poorest group in American until in 1926 the farm states where the Depression started began Social Security, which has then spread to a national program by Roosevelt in 1933," Dean argued. "So this is a core program. We just need to make it work and we just need some mild tweaks. Health care needs a lot of tweaks, but the whole system needs tweaks, not simply Medicare. And we should stop victimizing Medicare for the sake of keeping our taxes absurdly low. The fact is people need to pay their fair share in America, and the Bush tax cuts need to sunset. You know, when the taxes were at Bill Clinton’s rate, the economy was a whole lot better than it is now. And I wouldn’t mind going back to those taxes and paying my fair share at all."
This was the argumentative line between them: one side believing the system was broken and in need of dire repair, and the other convinced that the nation's entitlement programs were not the blame for the country's many financial problems.
Before the debate, 32 percent of the audience was opposed to the motion, and after the debate 55 percent were opposed. The Liberal panel won, though they had a remarkably friendly audience in Lower Manhattan.