According to the trustees who oversee Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid — Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, Social Security Commissioner Michael J. Astrue, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius — the nation's entitlement programs are going bankrupt even faster than predicted.
The trust funds that support Social Security will run dry by 2033. Medicare’s hospital insurance fund is projected to run out of money by 2024. The federal government will spend more than $668 billion on anti-poverty programs this year, an increase of 41%, or more than $193 billion, since President Barack Obama took office. State and local government expenditures will amount to another $284 billion, bringing the total to nearly $1 trillion in 2012.
The Obama administration, along with Congressional Democrats and even some Republicans, has allowed entitlement spending to blow out of control without doing a thing to reform these programs and keep their sustainability intact. Rep. Paul Ryan (R–Wisc.) is one of the only leaders brave enough to step forward and present entitlement reform proposals that could potentially be around long enough for the next generation to have a social safety net.
And here’s the cruelest part of the joke: It is leaders like Ryan who are getting demagogued.
More than 55 million retirees, disabled workers, spouses, and children receive Social Security. In 2011, Social Security paid $596.2 billion in retirement benefits to 44.8 million Americans and $128.9 billion in disability benefits to 10.6 million recipients. About 50 million people are covered by Medicare, which spent another $572 billion in 2011. The largest welfare program is Medicaid, which provides benefits to 49 million Americans and cost more than $228 billion last year. The second runner up is the food stamp program, with 41 million participants and a cost of nearly $72 billion.
That’s a total of almost 200 million Americans – nearly two-thirds of the entire population – receiving Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, or welfare, at a price tag of about $1.6 trillion in 2011 alone. Entitlements now eat up 65.1% of tax dollars (or about as much as the population receiving entitlement benefits), skyrocketing up from 25.4% just 50 years ago.
Yes, part of it is due to a large baby boomer generation reaching retirement age. Yes, part of it is due to the 2008 recession. But, the biggest part of them all is politicians’ reluctance to risk short term unpopularity to fix the long term sustainability of these social safety nets – starting with the president.
Obama has taken a hands off approach when it comes to addressing entitlement reform – the only exception being a willingness to raise the retirement age by two years to 67. That’s the least of what needs to be done. The average life expectancy for Americans, when Social Security was enacted in 1935, was 62. Today, it’s 78, while the eligibility age (65) has remained unchanged for the last 77 years.
The Affordable Care Act is supposed to extend the life of Medicare by trimming $500 billion in expenses. But some independent experts doubt the full savings will materialize, and even the administration concedes more cuts are needed. Not to mention the Congressional Budget Office’s projection of the ACA costing $1.76 trillion over the next 10 years.
Aside from that, how else does Obama plan to pay for these entitlements as they are? By passing the Buffet Rule? That only brings in $46.7 billion over the next 10 years. That doesn’t even cover one year of food stamps.
It didn’t used to be like this. President Ronald Reagan and a Tip O’Neill-led Democratic Congress were able to come together in 1983 to enact bipartisan amendments to keep Social Security sustainable. President Bill Clinton and a Newt Gingrich-led Republican Congress came together in 1997 to enact welfare reform and would have also passed historical reform to Social Security and Medicare if the Monica Lewinsky scandal hadn’t broken.
Ryan has presented yet another opportunity to enact real reform with ideas like moving toward a premium-support system in Medicare and a block-grant system in Medicaid. Instead of using this opportunity to finally take some long overdue and much needed action in these areas, Obama instead labels these efforts as “Social Darwinism.” Democrats instead maintain the status quo: promising to keep entitlement benefits as they are, even while they are fiscally unsustainable, to win the next election.
My generation, millennials, will then be left with no social safety nets to rely on when we hit hard times. Not because of “Social Darwinism,” but because politicians in D.C. blocked anything from being done at all.
I think 2012 Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney summed it up best. When delivering a speech at the University of Chicago the day before the Illinois primaries, Romney was asked the following question from a student, “Gov. Romney, what can Washington do to help my generation have a future?”
Romney replied, “Let me just start by saying this: with all due respect, I can’t understand why a young person would ever vote Democrat. … The Democratic Party is bankrupting the country with out-of-control levels of spending, unsustainable entitlement practices, and crushing record debt. … They want to double down on spending. They won’t even touch entitlement reform.
“Guess what? This isn’t my generation’s problem — it’s yours! We’re soaking up all the entitlement benefits dry and passing off the leftover debt onto you! Why young people would vote for a party that is bankrupting your finances and your future to take care of us is beyond me.
“Now the Republicans, on the other hand, are trying to cut spending, are trying to lower debt, and are presenting entitlement reforms so that they’re even still around when you’re eligible for them. We’re trying to secure a future for you guys so that you’ll even have economic opportunity once you graduate. That’s what I’m working towards, providing sustainability for your generation. … At least we’re bringing the discussion to the table instead of staying off the 3rd rail and doubling down on debt.”