The front door slams and a young woman in her early 20s drops a duffel bag on the wood floor of a well-lit foyer.
Father: (seated in chair) You're home! How's grad school?
(The girl looks irritated and says nothing.)
Father: What's wrong, baby?
Daughter: (The girl hesitates and then holds her hand out in front of him.) OK. Hand it over!
Father: What are you talking about?
Daughter: The credit card. You and your kick-the-can-down-the-road generation have bankrupted my future. (The girl drops The New York Times on the coffee table and becomes sarcastic.) It says in here that the fiscal cliff has been averted. Ha! They might as well have announced that the Easter bunny is real. I just finished Michael Lewis' "Boomerang" and Strauss and Howe's "The Fourth Turning" and I'm depressed.
Father: Haven't got to those books yet. Since November, I have turned to Merlot and escapism. I'm reading a bestseller about the 16th century. (Pointing to the newspaper, smirking.) Cheer up! The paper reports that the fiscal cliff is a bunny hill and Paul Krugman says spending our way out of the deficit is the only path back to prosperity. I hear Barney Frank may even come out of retirement.
Daughter: (Looking incredulous) We just re-elected 94 percent of Congress and yet they have a 9 percent approval rating. They only agreed to delay the debt ceiling discussion for 60 more days. Then they are going to ask Congress to raise my credit card limit. Even if the president got all the taxes he wanted, he'd have raised what, $80 billion of revenues? Where's the other $15.92 trillion going to come from? Government made promises back in the '60s that they no longer can keep. We've known it for a while, but we are hiding it like Enron. If the U.S. government was a public company, the executives would be in jail for accounting fraud and the country would be in receivership. In the real world, you don't pay as you go!"
Father: It's not my generation. It's that damn Obama. He has created more debt in the last four years than all the presidents who preceded him. He passed socialized medicine and now he wants to raid Medicare to pay for it. He's added at least $7 billion of public debt and he wants to raise the debt ceiling and spend more money. He's never worked a day in the private sector and can't balance a lemonade stand.
Daughter: Dad, get real. The guy inherited a nightmare from Bush and has been trying to spend his way out of it. It does not work. This is about facing the fact that our health-care system is broken and literally sinking the country. Congress and the White House have never shown fiscal discipline. We have recorded a budget surplus just five times in the last 50 years. Four of the surplus years came together from 1998 to 2001, President Bill Clinton's last three years in office, and W's first year in office. By the way, our publicly stated debt counts only current cash obligations. The real debt we are facing is more like $75 trillion dollars because we're not adding in $45 trillion for under-funding Medicare. Every politician knows this, but it is a radioactive secret. Both sides keep up their "Medi-Scare" rhetoric because they want support from retirees who fear they will lose benefits.
Father: (getting mad) There's no damn way I'm going to let them raid Medicare to pay for nationalized Obamacare.
Daughter: (smiles condescendingly) Dad, Medicare is unmanaged, fee for service, nationalized health care. The government controls Medicare costs by rationing reimbursement to doctors and cost shifting to the private sector. It's the greatest generational wealth transfer rip-off from young to old in the history of the country. Medicare was established when there were 16 workers for every retiree and the average life expectancy was age 68. In 2030, we will have only two workers for every retiree and will have 80 million retirees, four times as many as today. The math does not work. Social Security is not the problem. We have to cut Medicare and make some tough decisions about how we deliver care in the last few months of life.
Father: (getting angry) Oh, now you want to euthanize your parents? This is not about Medicare. It's about a socialist president who wants to redistribute wealth. Jesus, you're depressing. Do you have any good news to share?
Daughter: I'm taking Mandarin and I have a summer internship with an Indian microfinance firm that is trying to expand into China and Africa.
Father: (trying to appear encouraged) Well, that's great. Although it sounds like you are going to have a hard time finding a good cheeseburger. (Looking bemused) My kid's going to have to immigrate to another country to find a decent management job.
Daughter: (hugging her father and laughing) Not necessarily. We just have to show the resolve to confront health-care spending and the weight of our entitlement obligations. We have four choices: Default on our debt; raise taxes that only delay the day of reckoning and slow down our economy; create a centralized rationing regime in the form of a single payer health-care system; or migrate to a defined contribution premium support model where people receive help buying public or private insurance. I don't think we want number one or two. So that leaves three or four. We've got to get honest -- fast and (looking stern at her father), we have to cut up your credit cards.
Father: (grabbing his daughter's bag) How in the hell did you get so smart?
Daughter: I don't watch TV.