Politicians in Washington invariably use the term “entitlements” to refer to programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. On the face of it, it’s a neutral term: citizens are entitled to certain benefits if they fit a certain category of need, hence the benefits might reasonably be called “entitlements.”
Yet the word carries ideological freight—an implication that people are lazy or self-indulgent to expect these things.
Wonkblog has taken to using “austerity crisis” in place of “fiscal cliff.” They’re right: “fiscal” is not very specific, while “cliff” suggests a problem that happens all at once.
The reality is a crisis that unfolds over time. And it’s caused not by our fiscal policy in general but by something very specific: a severe austerity package actively imposed by Congress the last couple times it kicked the can down the road.
And as we saw then, there are really two questions at hand: when to reduce the deficit and how. The latter is a relatively straightforward partisan standoff. The former has become rhetorically rather bizarre.