Twenty-five years from now, when the generation of Americans being born today looks back on the record of American politicians now in office, the question of whether a deposed Iraqi despot stockpiled weapons of mass destruction may not seem nearly as important as the question of whether our own leaders ever stockpiled the Social Security surplus.
Unless politicians in Washington, D.C., start cutting government today, Social Security and Medicare will eventually drive the United States into fiscal civil war. It will not be a shooting war, pitting brother against brother. It will be a taxing-and-spending war, pitting grandparents against grandchildren.
In Wyoming last week, Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan pointed to the potential conflict in dry terms. "If we have promised more than our economy has the ability to deliver to retirees without unduly diminishing real income gains of workers, as I fear we have," he said, "we must recalibrate our programs so that pending retirees have time to readjust through other channels."
In the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee July 8, U.S. Comptroller General David Walker colored in the ugly picture. "Between now and 2035, the number of people who are 65 years old or over will double, driving federal spending on the elderly to a larger and ultimately unsustainable share of the federal budget," he said.
"Our latest long-term budget simulations reinforce the need for change in the major cost drivers -- Social Security and health care programs," he said. ". . . (B)y 2040, absent reform in these entitlement programs, projected federal revenues may be adequate to pay little beyond interest on the debt."
But even if this generation of politicians sincerely resolved that President Bush's massive new Medicare prescription drug entitlement was the last new program they would ever enact, they and their predecessors have already placed an unbearable burden on taxpayers of tomorrow.