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Save Medicare Now, or Go Under Later

We really don’t get it, do we? A recent Associated Press poll reports that more than half of Americans believe we can balance the budget without cutting Medicare spending.

As the late great Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan once said, everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts.

And the facts are clear. By the year 2024, unless we make real changes, Medicare will go broke. Done. Kaputt.

This is not a doomsday prediction like Harold Camping. It’s reality. Go ahead and Google “Medicare 2024” and read the results.

Oh, and for the 6 out of 10 Americans who believe we don’t have to make any changes in social security, well, at least we have until 2036 before it runs out of cash.

The urgent question before the American people is this: Are we willing to restrain ourselves now in a reasonable way or wait until bankruptcy forces us to -- with disastrous consequences?

Given the recent congressional election in New York, if the political pundits are right, the answer is frightening. In fact, Democratic politicians seem emboldened to hammer Republicans on Medicare reform, while many Republicans are becoming contortionists trying to avoid the topic. They’re both dead wrong.

Even the liberal New York Times gets it. “Sooner or later,” it opined last Thursday, “Democrats will have to admit that Medicare cannot keep running as it is -- its medical costs are out of control.”

So, we fix things now, or we go under later.

It’s like the old mariner's tale of the ship lost in a storm. The captain and eight surviving crew members found themselves in a small lifeboat far out to sea. By the captain’s calculations, given their position and the currents, it would take 24 days to reach shore. But the boat only had enough food and water to last 12 days. So, if all aboard agreed to half rations, they might just make it.

But the crew refused. They demanded full rations, and they made it very clear to the captain that he had no choice in the matter.

The captain kept a diary of their perilous journey. By day 6 it became even more clear that they would run out of provisions before reaching safe harbor. Yet still the crew would not agree to reduce rations. Even though the sun beat down on them mercilessly, at least their bellies were full and they had yet to feel real thirst.

By day 12, the captain recorded that the food and water were gone. Yet shore was nowhere in sight. By day 13, panic set in among the crew. It took every ounce of leadership skill to keep order on that little boat, surrounded by the endless expanse of the sea.

On day 24, just as the captain had predicted the currents had dragged the boat ashore. At least that’s what the recovery crew surmised after they found the captain’s diary aboard. Along with eight dead sailors. The captain was nowhere to be found -- unless the gnawed bones found on board...well, that’s another story.

Folks, the moral of the story  -- and of our predicament today -- is that we can make it to safety if we marshal our resources wisely.

Or we can starve to death later.

We must save Medicare and Social Security. But to do so, the American people will have to summon the courage to make sacrifices. And to do that, we’ll have to re-learn the what was once called the Protestant work ethic, and re-invigorate a nearly lost Christian virtue called delayed gratification.

This article published on May 31, 2011. Chuck Colson's daily BreakPoint commentary airs each weekday on more than one thousand outlets with an estimated listening audience of one million people. BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today's news and trends via radio, interactive media, and print. 

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