David: While I don't disagree with you on policy grounds, a government program doesn't have to work very well to develop a political constituency. It is easier for beneficiaries to see the check they are receiving in the mail, for example, than the net effect of the subsidy on the cost of what is being subsidized.
Medicare and Medicaid are certainly responsible for a good deal of the cost-shifting and inflation in our healthcare system; both programs still command significant constituencies that would oppose any cuts. Student loans may bid up education costs, but whenever cuts or higher interest rates are proposed, many students cry foul. The Democrats' basic approach to education and healthcare has been the same since the New Deal. Despite the obvious flaws in their programs, polls still usually show them with advantages on both issues.
Our political culture contains something of a pro-subsidy bias, as long as the electorate believes the recipient is deserving. That doesn't mean a program can never fail so badly or cost the taxpayers so much that the electorate will revolt -- consider the Republicans and welfare reform in the 1990s. But passing an economically counterproductive policy isn't, I'm afraid, necessarily credibility-destroying.
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