Feb. 17, 2011— -- With all the finger-pointing in Washington this week over the need to reform Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, one thing is clear: it might just be Americans' very sense of entitlement to those programs that's the biggest barrier to getting something done.
The three programs have ballooned to 57 percent of the government budget this year and are widely cited as the most significant contributors to the federal deficit, something nearly all Americans want to see aggressively brought under control.
But while lawmakers from both parties agree on curbing the skyrocketing costs of the programs, few have endorsed a specific way to get that done.
President Obama, who's come under fire for not offering a detailed vision for fixing entitlement spending in his 2012 budget, said Tuesday that he's prepared to work with both parties to "start dealing with that in a serious way."
Republicans, meanwhile, who also haven't united around their own path to reform but promised their forthcoming budget would include a step forward, said they are "waiting for presidential leadership."
Washington's pundits say both sides could come together this year and work something out. But the "adult conversation" Republicans and Democrats say they're ready to have on entitlements only gets more politically perilous as it gets more specific -- particularly ahead of a looming election battle in 2012.
Fifty-six percent of Americans oppose changes to Medicare benefits and 64 percent oppose changes to Social Security benefits, according to a poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation and Harvard University School of Public Health.
At the same time, a majority of Americans oppose tax increases to pay to keep the programs operating at their current levels.
Moreover, heading into a presidential election season, no party or politician wants to be perceived as altering a benefit program that affects some of the most reliable and active American voters -- senior citizens.