A Jolt of Reality

Posted by By at 19 April, at 11 : 55 AM Print

For the last month, there has been a misconception that I have a particular ax to grind with Penn State; nothing, in fact, could be farther from the truth. But there is a new reality that Penn State and all of Higher Education – heck, all of anything but entitlements – need to accept: as long as Obamacare draws breath you are doomed to extinction. The only question is when.

This is not idle chatter or chicken little-esque talk – this is reality. This year the cost of entitlements, social security and debt payments will exceed all federal revenues. Let me say it again, because it is so startling – the cost of Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and the debt service will swallow every dollar we have and then some. No wonder we have to raise the debt ceiling – otherwise we couldn’t afford kinetic military action or whatever we call war under this administration.

We are at the crisis – it is not a decade from now nor is this a political assessment: the numbers do not lie. The President is right while his budget is wrong; we need serious proposals – his wasn’t one. And this is as good as it’s ever going to be unless we make massive changes right now.

After all, when you consider the hard choices we are being asked to make now, just remember that we haven’t even begun to pay for Obamacare and its massive additional costs. The social welfare net, unreformed, is simply going to eat every dollar we have – and then some, over and again. That means this year might be the high-water mark for higher education funding in real dollars for the rest of history – and they could be zeroed out inside 10 years. It also means programs like job training, economic development projects, and infrastructure will be competing for fewer and fewer dollars – in spite of increasing needs. Or we could borrow more and push the problem down the road a tiny bit.

Any path we take that does not include massive entitlement reform is a suicide pact. Obamacare, like the Godzilla of those old monster movies, will destroy everything in its path. The money we borrow today will cost us more in the future, and as we pay more interest on the debt we have accumulated the budget gets more and more crowded out by the debt service. The cycle has but one end game. And borrowing more money is just a stall – worse, it’s a stall that will hasten the ultimate demise.

This path has real consequences, and they get worse as we continue to play politics with reality. Just yesterday Standard and Poor’s lowered the United States Sovereign Debt outlook from “Stable” to “Negative” – a signal that failure to control spending now will lead to a lowering of the US’s perfect credit rating.

The move sent the stock market south and is akin to firing a shot across the bow. The actual broadside will be crushing, as the lowered rating will drive up the cost to borrow money. We have to borrow just to meet our entitlements and debt now – as that number gets higher so will the cost of borrowing. The cycle is as predictable as the sunrise – unless we act boldly and now.

So I am asking all of the so-called “special” interests in the budget – federal and state – to stand up and demand that we make massive changes to our welfare state. I am asking all of the organizations that have waivers OUT of Obamacare to help kill it – I am looking at you especially SEIU. And I am begging the President to heed his own advice – now is the time for a serious adult conversation. Demagoguery does not count.

Last but not least, I am looking to higher education to help us because it is education that is threatened the most. As entitlements grow basic or primary education costs shift to local governments, and higher ed will be swallowed up. The greatest threat to Penn State and higher education funding is not Governor Corbett or the state legislature – it’s the ever-shrinking pool of flexible funds and the number of needs they have to be spread across.

So, if you want to help protect your long term funding, help over turn Obamacare. You can do it and stay liberal, I assure you – there are many options that expand coverage without breaking the bank. The worst solution was probably the one we got because of its petty politics; the best solution will accept reality and expand care responsibly and effectively.

If you want to protect your funding, you also need to help end Medicare as we know it – the fact is, “as we know it” even the President admits medical assistance is doomed to fail. Let’s stop playing class warfare politics and discuss openly what we need and what we can do without. It’s a conversation we have to have some day – why not be progressive and handle it now rather than act irresponsibly and expect someone else to do it.

College professors from schools like Penn State should be leading the way – for both policy reasons and out of a sense of self preservation. The policy rationale is obvious; absent real changes not only will all other funding be swallowed up but the programs will fail anyway, so changes now make the most logical sense as it gives us the most time to fix the problem. And the self-preservation angle is clear – without state and federal funding,the number of jobs in higher education will drop off dramatically as well.

Remember – funding is disappearing at all levels of government. When we can no longer afford to subsidize college loans enrollment will drop. When enrollments drop we will have less students, and likewise less teachers, support staff, administrators, etc. This is a systemic problem.

The sooner we accept the inevitably of this outcome under the status quo ante the sooner we can engage in that adult discussion.

In the meantime, I have one idea for Penn State that I think is both a nifty idea and a good PR move for the now seemingly embattled President Spanier. As most are unaware, President Spanier once held the title of Chancellor of the University of Nebraska at Lincoln – the newest Big Ten team. He was the head of that school when it was wrongly awarded the 1994 Football National Championship. I say wrongly because the 1994 Nittany Lions would have shredded – SHREDDED – that team. But I digress.

This fall there will be the first Big Ten conference game between Penn State and Nebraska. Tickets will be in high demand – the 2002 Nebraska game is still the stadium record. It occurs to me that we have a unique opportunity to do something truly cool. President Spanier, like every other school president in the Big Ten, has a box for viewing and entertaining donors – it is a useful tool and one that no one should begrudge him. The box runs from the 30 to the 30, and it is full of great seats – especially as they are inside and the game is in November. Each seat would easily draw $500, and every 30 seats means one kid gets a full scholarship for the year.

And President Spanier can do one better. For that game, to show his solidarity with the Penn State students past and present who want a win more than anything the first time Nebraska enters as a conference foe, President Spanier can sit in the endzone in the new student section. Think of the theatre.

It would be a terrific way to draw attention to the funding issues on national TV and in front of potential donors. It would show that after 17 years, all the red is out of President Spanier’s blood – its all Nittany blue now. And 7-10 kids get a full ride for a year of school.

That is a win across the board – especially if we do beat the Huskers.

Just think – maybe during the inevitable sideline interview (President Spanier would be on TV more than the cowbell guy if he sits in the stands) he could advocate repealing Obamacare to save higher education.

Hey – A guy can dream, right?

All dreams and PR stunts aside, we are now at the day of reckoning. We need solutions, and those solutions are going to hurt. How much they hurt and for how long all depends on our leaders now. I just hope they see it too.


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This post was written by:
- who has written 77 posts for Rock The Capital
Scott Paterno is an accomplished policy analyst and political consultant based in Hershey, PA. Mr. Paterno, never one to sit still, has practiced law, run for a house seat, and worked as lobbyist in Harrisburg and Washington. Paterno is Vice Chairman of the Sustainable Energy Fund and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Political Science. He is happily married with three children. - Email scottp

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