Words matter in discussing spending

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Friday, February 25, 2011; 7:09 PM

I suggest that The Post lead the rest of the national media by abandoning the use of "entitlements" when writing about Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. These are not "entitlements" but rather elective transfers of financial resources.

Voters in 1935 (Social Security) and 1965 (Medicare) elected to shift resources from those younger than 65 to those 65 and older. In the case of Medicaid, voters in 1965 elected to transfer resources from those above the poverty line to those below the poverty line. Voters in this century have elected to continue these "entitlements" without actually paying for them, effectively transferring the obligation to their children and grandchildren. It is within our power as citizens to elect different approaches.

We Americans have certain entitlements such as freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and freedom of religion. But continued use of the word "entitlements" with respect to unaffordable social welfare programs biases the political and economic arguments our nation is about to have. If Americans are continuously led to believe that their "entitlements" are untouchable, it will result in a financial crisis that will jeopardize these very entitlements. I suggest that you find a different way to refer to these programs, perhaps "elective transfers" rather than "entitlements." We chose to make these transfers, and we have the means and ability to modify them if we find that doing so would be in the national interest.

John Stewart, Manassas

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I am writing in response to the interesting way you described community health centers, subject to massive spending cuts, as a program favored by "liberals" ["House GOP trims tens of billions more from Obama budget plan," front page, Feb. 12]. This label would undoubtedly come as a surprise to such longtime Republican supporters of the program as Sens. Orrin G. Hatch (Utah) and Richard Burr (N.C.), Rep. Kay Granger (Tex.) and former president George W. Bush.

While health centers have long enjoyed support from liberals (the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) was among them), the fact that they are serving 20 million patients today is no doubt due to a cast of true conservative champions who clearly saw their cost-effective and locally controlled model of care as consistent with their principles and values. It is a proven, effective program designed to improve health, lower costs and establish local control of health care - ideals shared by politicians as varied as Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.).

We hope this devastatingly large cut is reconsidered, in a bipartisan manner, before millions of people across the country lose access to desperately needed health care and costs rise even more.

Craig A. Kennedy, Washington

The writer is associate vice president for federal and state affairs at the National Association of Community Health Centers.

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Steven Mufson ["On national debt, interest is the monster," front page, Feb. 17] said that "every man, woman and child in the United States will be paying more than $2,500 a year" in interest payments to cover our national debt.

I suspect that squeezing that money out of my 6-year-old daughter will be difficult - getting her to brush her teeth properly is not easy.

I think that Mufson may mean that the total interest payment, if it were divided by the total population, would equal $2,500 per person. To suggest that the burden of payment will be spread equally among every infant, adult and elderly individual is a misleading innumeracy I would expect my daughter to be able to avoid.

Bill Hindle, Vienna


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