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Social Security is Broke

While we debate the pros and cons of a trillion-dollar-plus health care overhaul here in the House, it's important to come to terms with the rising financial commitment already facing our nation and future generations.

For instance, according to a report just released by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO), Social Security is broke.

The CBO now projects that Social Security’s costs will exceed tax income in 2010 (next year!) and 2011, with cash surpluses returning over the 2012-2015 period and becoming negative again beginning in 2016 and later.  In their March 2009 estimates, the CBO projected that the cash surplus would be positive through 2016.  Keep in mind that these projections are based on what many economists of all stripes believe are far-too-rosy White House budget numbers.  It's a very real possibility that a positive cash surplus may not occur at all.

What's worse is what the CBO report reveals about our nation's long-term budget outlook:

"Over the long term (beyond the 10-year baseline projection period), the budget remains on an unsustainable path. Unless changes are made to current policies, the nation will face a growing demand for budgetary resources caused by rising health care costs and the aging of the population. Continued large deficits and the resulting increases in federal debt over time would reduce long-term economic growth by lowering national saving and investment relative to what would otherwise occur, causing productivity and wage growth to gradually slow.

"Last year, outlays for Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid combined accounted for about 9 percent of GDP. Outstripping the growth of GDP, spending for those programs is expected to rise rapidly over the next 10 years, totaling nearly 12 percent of GDP by 2019. Under long term projections recently published by CBO, such spending would continue to rise under current laws and policies and could total 17 percent of GDP by 2035.
"If outlays for those programs reached that level, federal spending would be well above its historical percentage of GDP. Unless revenues were increased correspondingly, annual deficits would climb and federal debt would grow significantly, posing a threat to the economy. Alternatively, if taxes were raised to finance the rising spending, tax rates would have to reach levels never seen in the United States. Some combination of significant changes in benefit programs and other spending and tax policies will be necessary in order to attain long-term fiscal balance."

These are very real numbers we're talking about, and it's about time Washington account for its finances rather than pushing them off to our children and grandchildren through continued borrowing and higher taxes.


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