John Feehery: Speaking Engagements


Lazy River

Posted on April 13, 2012

            My brother was staying up at a time-share resort near the Magic Kingdom and he invited us up to stay with him for a couple of days.  The resort had a lazy river, a few miniature golf courses, and a giant slide for the kids.  So, it was a no-brainer for us to drive up two hours from our home base in Siesta Key.


The Lazy River, of course, wasn’t just for the kids.  The idea of a lazy river, in case you don’t know, is that you float up on a inner-tube or on your back, and you let the river take you around for the mile or so.  All you have to do is gently steer yourself away from the sides and from the thousands of other people who are floating around with you.


During my trip around the Lazy River, I found that I had floated past the point where my towel was located.   With the wind blowing, it was a bit too cold to get out at a later point and simply walk back.   So, I decided to try to walk against the Lazy River current.


It was tough going.  Not only were there all kinds of bodies in my way.  The current itself was pretty strong.  After a while, I gave up and decided to float all the way around the course again to my eventual disembarkation point (and my towel).


As I was struggling against the current, my mind turned to the legislative process and entitlement reform.  (I don’t know why my mind works that way…it just does).


It is awfully hard to reform entitlements by going against the tides of history.  It is awfully hard to take away benefits from current beneficiaries.  It is awfully hard to do big, big reform, especially if you are tying to do it in a partisan way.    It is even hard to do fundamental entitlement form in a bipartisan manner.  The currents are too strong.  The voting blocs are too active.  The special interests are too powerful.


So, how do you reform the entitlement system then?


Well, my suggestion is that you do a series of little reforms that get overwhelming support?  You start with some pilot programs that give incentives to non-seniors to opt out.  You create programs like the Medicare Advantage program that give seniors more services.  You tweak the retirement age and the eligibility ages somewhere in the future.  You slow down the CPI increases.  And you increase the contributions of the very rich and give tax incentives for the rich to opt out entirely.


You work with the currents and tweak the program and eventually you save the programs for the next two generations.


That is how I would do it if I didn’t want to always swim against the tides of history.