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Entitlement spending
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With spending deficits that can’t be sustained without driving this country to financial ruin, lawmakers in Washington have lots of choices before them. So far they seem to be ignoring them. But their job isn’t easy, and this week’s New York House of Representatives race, in which a Democrat captured a seat in a traditionally Republican district, became a referendum on cutting Medicare benefits, and voters said they didn’t like that.

Voters in New York -- and polls have shown their sentiment is shared across the country -- don’t like the concept of large deficits, but neither do they fancy the idea of fooling around with their favorite programs, such as Medicare and Social Security. They favor cutting “discretionary spending,” but the problem is that entrenched social programs eat up huge amounts of money; practically speaking, there’s no way of dealing with the deficit in a reasonable manner if Congress doesn’t come to grips with the fact that something has to be done about entitlement spending.

Tuesday’s race in New York certainly won’t make Republicans more eager to advocate cutting pet programs. And Democrats in Washington appear to be psychologically unable to rein in spending in any way. In the meantime, deficits continue to climb, and virtually every financial expert in the country says current spending levels are leading us off a cliff. That’s what we call being caught between a rock and a hard place.