Until the 1980s, entitlement wasn’t part of everyday language. Ronald Reagan was apparently the first president to use the term extensively. He may have “tired of getting beaten up every time he mentioned Social Security, and wanted a broader and more neutral term,” political scientist Norman Ornstein has suggested. Entitlement is a bland label. To say there’s an “entitlement problem” shrewdly avoids connecting it explicitly with popular programs. President Obama evasively speaks of entitlements in this way; so do most Republicans. Their veiled references cover Medicare and Medicaid as well as Social Security.
Two things are wrong with this. First, it’s misleading. Social Security, Medicare (health insurance for the elderly) and Medicaid (health insurance for the poor) aren’t the only big entitlement programs. Here are 12 of the largest in 2012, ranked by the number of recipients, according to the Office of Management and Budget. (Note: CHIP stands for “children’s health insurance program.” Child nutrition is mostly subsidized school meals. Supplemental Security Income aids the aged, blind and disabled.)