Washington politicians have worked themselves into a fine lather lately debating spending cuts. Yet as familiar rhetorical jabs are exchanged over proposed reductions to things like NPR and the National Archives, the real spending debate is being ignored.
I’m referring of course to the debate over “entitlements” – decades worth of multi-trillion dollar promises made by former Congresses that had no intention whatsoever of keeping any of them.
Once a distant dilemma, entitlements are now the “wolf at the door,” a present, pernicious threat to the immediate fiscal health of our nation. Yet as this unprecedented wave of red ink crests over our country – dwarfing the debate over discretionary spending – politicians of both parties remain incapable of leveling with the public regarding the damage to come.
In fact entitlement reform isn’t even part of the budgetary conversation.
Fiscal conservatives in the U.S. Senate have correctly criticized recent budget reductions proposed by the U.S. House as inadequate.
“They’re talking about cutting $35 billion,” U.S. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) said last week. “We spend $35 billion in five days. We add $35 billion to the debt in nine days. It’s not enough and we will not avoid financial ruin in our country if we do not think more boldly.”
On the other end of the political spectrum, Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) accused House Republicans of inviting a government shutdown by proposing cuts that “would be devastating to our economy and send us back into a recession.”
What no one is addressing, however, are unavoidable changes to Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare that have been ignored for decades despite ominous warnings and soaring unfunded liabilities. Even after a special commission appointed by President Barack Obama recommended entitlement reform, the White House once again dodged the issue in its budget this week, saying that entitlements “will be part of the conversation over the next several years.”
The next several years?
The problem with “kicking the can down the road” is that eventually the road runs out – and when it comes to entitlements, America is fast approaching that point.
Spending on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid currently consumes almost half of the federal budget – a figure that’s expected to climb to 64 percent by the end of the decade, according to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget (CRFB).