The late economist Herbert Stein once said, “If something can’t go on, it won’t go on.”

Which makes a recent comment from a Washington Post columnist the most meaningless thing I have read so far this year.

Dana Milbank, who usually takes a liberal slant on things, wrote Monday about a Medicare reform plan sponsored by four Republican senators: Jim DeMint and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Mike Lee of Utah.

The plan, Milbank said, would replace Medicare (which is nose-diving into insolvency) by offering seniors subsidies to buy into the same deal that federal employees — including members of Congress — get now: a choice of 250 different options for health care.

The website CNSNews.com described the plan: “All seniors would … pay the same premium, regardless of health status or pre-existing conditions. (The plan) would also create a pool for the costliest 5 percent of patients, rewarding plans that enroll high-risk patients with a direct reimbursement from the federal government. Age adjustment and means testing would also be added to Medicare, which Republicans say would save $1 trillion in the first 10 years …

“Beginning in 2014, the eligibility age (currently at 65) would go up 3 months per year until capped at age 70 in 2040. Seniors with income of more than $1 million per year would receive no subsidy from the government for their health care. Retirees with income between $200,000 and $1 million would receive a 15 percent subsidy, and those between $100,000 and $200,000 would be subsidized 30 percent.”

Subsidies for those making less than $100,000 would be 75 percent of policy costs.

“Republicans said their reforms would save $1,500 per year in out-of-pocket costs for Medicare enrollees, and save the country $16 trillion in unfunded liabilities in 75 years, while providing ‘richer benefits, higher quality health care’ and ‘better access to doctors,’” the website reported.

Milbank couldn’t contain himself in expressing how politically foolish this proposal was, saying it showed that Republicans could probably not “be trusted with the reins of power” in the Senate.

What led him to such a harsh conclusion? Was it that the program wouldn’t work? No, he never said that. He just thought it was a political faux pas that showed the GOP was inept at manipulating voters.

Of course, his view says more about himself and other liberals than it does about those trying not to “kill” Medicare but instead to save it.

Economist Walter Williams put it concisely in a recent column: “At its beginning, in 1966, Medicare cost $3 billion. The House Ways and Means Committee, along with President Lyndon Johnson, estimated that Medicare would cost an inflation-adjusted $12 billion by 1990. In 1990, Medicare topped $107 billion. That’s nine times Congress’ prediction.”

And now, Williams added, spending is out of control: “The 2009 Medicare trustees report put the unfunded Medicare liability at $89 trillion. The 1966 Medicare cost estimate was simply a congressional and White House lie to get the American people to buy into their agenda.”

Here we get to Milbank’s senseless comment. He doesn’t contest Medicare’s pending bankruptcy. Indeed, he quotes DeMint as saying that Medicare “is not going to be there in five or 10 years if we don’t do anything.” (More precisely, the plan’s trustees say it will be insolvent by 2024 at current funding levels.)

To that dire prediction, Milbank offers this stunning rejoinder: “True, Medicare is in trouble. But is killing it before it dies the best solution?”

Incredible. In the twists and turns of his mind, trying to rescue Medicare is the same thing as “killing” it.

But, you say, of course he offered alternatives to put the program back on a sound fiscal footing? No, he didn’t bother.

(And he’s not relying on Obamacare to help because Obamacare is partly funded by taking $500 billion out of the Medicare program.)

Milbank’s sole concern is politics. Not people, not coverage, not reform, not fiscal sobriety, not doctor reimbursement rates that have to be supported out of current revenues (or borrowing) every year, not anything you or I would want to see addressed.

All he wants to do is poke fun at those stupid Republicans who want to do something meaningful about a soon-to-be-bankrupt program.

Yes, there might be better ways to accomplish that highly necessary task — but if there are, we didn’t learn about them from Milbank.

The senators predicted their plan would be “kryptonite” to Democrats because it offered seniors more freedom in selecting their own coverage, thus making them less reliable supporters of the party that now holds a tight rein on their benefits.

Considering how feeble this particular liberal was in criticizing it, it appears they were right.

M.D. Harmon, a retired journalist and military officer, is a freelance writer. He can be contacted at:

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