By Hank Beckman
When U.S. Rep. Judy Biggert asked the senior citizens at Villa St. Benedict's in Lisle on Thursday how many of them were better off than their parents had been, nearly all of them raised their hands.
But when the Hinsdale Republican asked how many of them expected their children to enjoy the same standard of living that they had, not one hand went up.
"This is the first time ever that people feel their children will be worse off," Biggert said.
And so began the GOP effort to defend the fiscal year 2012 budget submitted by the U.S. House leadership. They also must answer the Obama administration's charge that the document is a radical departure from the current arrangement the federal government has with the American people.
Using figures from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, Biggert outlined the fiscal problems facing the country.
She said the majority of federal budget expenditures are entitlements and therefore off-limits to reductions. Biggert used the CBO's own projections to show where the country was headed fiscally.
"Right now, we spend more than a trillion dollars more than we take in," she said.
While the projected tax revenue, if nothing is changed, remains essentially flat after 2020, Medicare expenditures steadily increase as a percent of total spending, climbing from the present total of just under 10 percent to about 12 percent in 2020, and 18 percent in 2030.
"The explosion in growth is the result of entitlements," Biggert said.
Without any changes, the total debt by 2025 will reach 100 percent of gross domestic product, she said, the same as when the government was financing World War II.
"And this doesn't even include the planned spending on "ObamaCare,'" Biggert said.
Equally as troubling to Biggert is from whom the government borrows. Total debt held by foreign powers is currently 47 percent, as opposed to the 5 percent in 1970.
"We've become dependent on foreign lenders," she said. "This can lead to a problem with our national sovereignty ... it can be a security risk."
Biggert stressed the Republican Party deserved its share of the blame for the current mess. "We made mistakes on our own side," she said.
As for fixing the problem, Biggert gave an outline of "the Path to Prosperity," the fiscal plan devised by Wisconsin Republican Paul Ryan.
Among the key points in the Ryan plan are that those 55 and older will see no changes in benefits -- including Medicare and Social Security. "We can't change people's plans," Biggert said. "The other side of the aisle is saying this (that current seniors will be affected), and it's not true."
Also, the Ryan plan will offer (for those under 55) a guaranteed personalized Medicare plan.
Biggert contrasted the Ryan plan with that of President Obama, which she said calls for rationing of services and contains no plan to save Medicare.
One member of the audience asked about reforming Medicaid. Part of the Ryan budget plan calls for block grants to the states to fund Medicaid.
Biggert admitted that the idea would be a tough sell, particularly in a chronically strapped state like Illinois.
"They (state officials) are the ones that are closer (and more able) to see how the money will be spent," she said, before admitting that it might not work so well in Illinois, because, "They are always running out of money."
Another question concerned waste in government spending.
Biggert agreed with the questioner that waste was a problem and didn't spare the GOP in her criticism. "It was just greed," she said of the party's taste for earmark spending. "I have to say this is what killed us in the election."
Biggert acknowledged the political risk inherent in trying to tackle entitlement reform, but said she was undeterred. "I never did learn to talk in sound bites," she said. "I want to do what's right we have to be willing to lose but be able to fix the problem."
The residents seemed receptive to Biggert's message, if a little skeptical of government in general.
"The talk was good," said Betty Krupp. "It's very important to get the message to seniors that the changes are not for people 55 and over ... but the changes need to be there."