Commentary

Pro-Obama Youth Should Be Careful What They Wish For

The sea of young people we’ll see cheering Barack Obama’s speech in Denver Thursday night is just a tiny slice of a nationwide movement. According to a recent poll by Harvard University’s Institute of Politics, Obama leads John McCain by an astonishing 23 points, 55% to 32%, among voters younger than 25.

It is easy to see why. Obama is young. He seems to brim with hope and optimism. He “gets” 21st century culture. In contrast, John McCain is old, very old, and more than a little bit cranky. Heck, he’s even unfamiliar with the Internet.

Yet if you look at the policies advocated by the two candidates, Obama’s appear almost perversely designed to hit those young supporters in the pocketbook.

Looking at how voters in one state repeatedly voted against their economic interests, one political scientist asked, “What’s the matter with Kansas?” With respect to young voters and Obama, we might pose this question: “What’s the matter with kids today?”

Take health care, for example. Obama supports an idea known as “community rating,” a requirement that insurers must charge everyone the same premium regardless of their health status. That means young and healthy people will pay the same premium as older and sicker people. Essentially, those high premiums on young people will be subsidizing the premiums for older people.

Moreover, Obama would prohibit low-cost, high-deductible policies, and would insist that every insurance policy include all sorts of costly benefits. These regulations will, on balance, make it much harder for young people just starting out in their first jobs to afford insurance.

No government program treats young people worse than Social Security. Social Security taxes are already so high, relative to benefits, that the program has simply become a bad deal for younger workers, providing a low, below-market rate of return. In fact, over the course of their careers, many young workers will end up paying more in taxes than they receive in benefits.

Worse, the program is facing future unfunded obligations in excess of $15.3 trillion. This means young people will face either massive future tax increases or benefit cuts when it comes time for them to retire.

Yet Obama — who just a few months ago took justifiable pride in his willingness to keep all options on the table — now opposes both benefit cuts and allowing younger workers to privately invest even a small portion of their Social Security into personal accounts that can build value over time.

Medicare’s anticipated future debt is even greater, an astounding $70 trillion by some estimates. Yet Obama not only opposes most Medicare reform proposals, he actually wants to increase benefits under the Medicare prescription drug program. That is yet another cost that will be passed along to young voters.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, unless spending is brought under control, the federal government will eventually consume as much as 35% of our GDP. Paying for a government that size would require raising both the corporate tax rate and top income tax rate from their current 35% to 88%, the current 25% tax rate for middle-income workers to 63%, and the 10% tax bracket for low-income workers to 25%. The impact on workers, businesses and the economy at large would be catastrophic.

Far from restraining the growth of government, Obama is proposing program after program of new spending. According to the most recent tally from the National Taxpayers Union, he has laid out $343 billion per year in new government spending.

Yes, Obama may end the war in Iraq sooner than John McCain — but there is no end in sight to these other federal spending commitments.

Barack Obama has brought millions of young people into the political process. He has given them belief in a better tomorrow. He owes them something more: policies that will actually make our fiscal future more secure.

Michael D. Tanner is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute.