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Not trying to alarm you, but ...

| Thursday, Jan. 24, 2013, 12:02 a.m.

When a letter begins like this — “I don't want to alarm you, but” — it‘s a cinch it wants to alarm you.

Max Richtman's letter gets right down to boiling the juices of the elderly. The politicians of Washington, it shakes all bells, will take away or cut back Social Security and Medicare if you let them.

So go to your checkbook and then to your mailbox. Send Richtman's organization “membership” dues and your congressman a letter demanding no cuts in monthly benefits or the medical cost cushion. These safety nets were “promised” and “earned.” So let the government solve its trillion-dollar budget deficits out of somebody else's hide. Don't hang the national debt around the necks of retirees.

Richtman gives six pages to this temper stimulant for the up-in-years. He's president of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security & Medicare, a Washington-based lobby that's been intent for 30 years on holding Congress' feet to the old voters' fire.

Trouble is, think how many other alarming messages might be in the mail on any given day.

A Committee to Save Our Cities from Unimaginable Destruction might very justifiably upset us all about the nation's lack of a space-based shield against intercontinental nuclear missiles. We're vulnerable to the crazies: North Korea, Iran or jihadists who commandeer a submarine. A “star wars” defense sneered at in President Reagan's time is actually feasible. And cheap, considering the millions of lives to be saved and threats to be averted.

And where's the Committee for Bridges, Roads, Dams, Levees and Sewer Systems? All are aging and deteriorating at a (hate to say it) alarming rate. Trillions ought to be spent bringing them up to snuff, starting yesterday.

Committees to save the schools are legion. But how about a Committee to Save the Schools and Save Money Doing It?

Such a lobby might raise an alarm (as President Obama unaccountably won't) against the unsustainable increase in babies born out of wedlock. Lacking fathers at home to help model behavior, kids are hard to teach at school and unfortunately easy to graduate into prison. Richtman's constituents must shake their heads at waste like that.

The Farm Lobby gets alarmed at any notion to quit requiring corn-based ethanol in gasoline. Where is the consumer groups' outrage at what this does to food prices? And the environmentalists' dismay at the costly lack of help to climate change?

Adequate pay, equipment and medical care for the nation's military forces surely head most priority spending lists.

Unavoidable conclusion: Everything government does makes some sense to somebody.

Hence the late economist Milton Friedman's suggestion voiced in Pittsburgh years ago. The only way to cut a government budget, or any budget, he said, is across the board — everything — 10 percent. Under such a gun, each department would identify the least essential programs and make the trims that lobbyists' alarms will not allow piecemeal.

Who knows how our seniors might respond if snips in their safety nets helped to preserve the overarching, the Great Safety Net... a solvent America?

Email jmarkowitz@tribweb.com.

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