"This is what I call a target rich environment."            Senate Budget Committee Chairman,  Kent Conrad,                        January 21, 2009


It's hard to imagine that at the same time millions of Americans are watching their home values plummet, their savings disappear and healthcare costs skyrocket, so-called "fiscal hawks" in Congress are pushing to cut the very lifelines keeping so many seniors and their families afloat.  Social Security and Medicare are providing a stable and reliable source of security during a time of severe insecurity yet they are among the key "targets" Chairman Conrad sees in this "target rich environment".   The Senate Budget Committee's hearing this week on "Short and Long-term Fiscal Challenges" focused on the so-called "grand bargain" which says if Congress is going to pass desperately needed stimulus then there must also be "entitlement reform" (meaning cuts) to Social Security and Medicare.    You don't have to be an economist to understand that eight years of borrow and spend policies, underfunded wars, tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans and unchecked healthcare costs have burgeoned our deficits and debt long before the economy collapsed. Now that we're spend $700 billion to bail out Wall Street and are finally considering help for Main Street, our fiscal picture is even bleaker.  But let's not forget, Social Security and Medicare did not cause these deficits.  Slashing these programs to the bone still won't balance our budget. In fact, according to the Congressional Budget Office if every entitlement in the federal budget were repealed outright - eliminating Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and other critical programs - but nothing were done to slow the growth in health care costs overall, we would still find ourselves spending almost 70 percent of the nation's wealth on health care by 2082.  It is clear America does not face an entitlement crisis; it faces a health care financing problem.  One that needs to be addressed with national healthcare reform before making any "grand bargain" which ignores the true challenges facing our economy.