“These middle-class retirement programs, Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare, will cause federal spending to jump by half, from 20 percent of the economy to 30 percent by 2035. This tsunami of spending is a major threat to limited government because it runs on auto-pilot with automatic increases locked in by each program’s governing laws. While other programs are constrained through annual budgets, entitlements get first call on resources. Other goals such as defense or national security must compete for an increasingly smaller share of what’s left. This ‘locked in’ spending is steadily undermining the economic future of younger generations, who face a debt burden of $175,000 per person. The moral and ethical challenge from the entitlement tsunami is undermining our democratic system as more Americans become dependent on the government and other priorities are automatically pre-empted.”
For years, Heritage and others have warned policymakers in Washington about this gathering storm. And for just as long, those warnings have fallen on deaf ears. Yes, a few brave individual politicians here and there have raised a cry for action. But too many preferred to look the other way. Spooked by political fears (and sometimes because of plain laziness), they’ve kicked the entitlement can down the road, hoping it would become someone else’s problem.
The problem is, that day of reckoning -- when the “Big Three” entitlement programs make spending on any other national priorities virtually impossible -- is practically here. The baby boomers are retiring, and the tax burden is shifting to the smaller generations behind them. We’ve got to start addressing this problem now, before it gets even worse.
Fixing it won’t be easy. But once we’ve discarded the “third rail” mentality that has kept us paralyzed politically for years, we can take action. Solutions include raising the retirement age (Social Security, after all, was conceived when life expectancies were lower) and targeting low-income seniors more effectively. And as Heritage’s Brian Riedl notes, “In the long run, a more generationally equitable system would add a Social Security option in which individuals set aside money for their own retirement that they own themselves.”
Whatever the exact solution, it’s clearly time to get involved. Tell others about this grave crisis that threatens to affect all of us. At Heritage, we’ve made it easy for you to spread the word: Go to alegacyofdebt.com order a free DVD of a 12-minute program called “A Legacy of Debt.” You also can download materials that will help you host a screening of the program for your friends and neighbors.
For too long, we’ve tried looking the other way. It doesn’t work. Only by getting large numbers of people involved, at the community level, will we finally get Washington policymakers to take notice -- and get busy.
Of course, it won’t be easy to get them to fix things. But it sure beats celebrating Cost of Government Day on Christmas.
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