Jordan Candler / April 13, 2017

Social Security Reform: Not on My Watch, Says Trump

He’s always promised to avoid touching the third rail, but it needs reform. Will Congress act anyway?

Conservative and moderate Republicans in Congress along with the president are working diligently on developing health care and tax reform. These are good and laudable steps. If implemented, they will take a good deal of pressure and stress off millions of hard-working Americans. That said, there’s a financial nemesis nobody wants to talk about. That nemesis is composed of major entitlements and welfare, and they are the driving forces of our national debt, meaning a balanced budget is nearly impossible without major reform. The unsustainability of these programs also means an alarming percentage of the annual budget is actually going toward paying off interest.

As policy guru Veronique de Rugy has written, “In the next decade, net interest will go from $270 billion to $768 billion. The CBO … reports that the share of the budget devoted to those payments is growing, from 7 percent today to 21 percent in 2047.” And that’s a conservative estimate. She continues, “[B]efore there was Obamacare, there were Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. According to economist Paul Winfree, the federal government’s unsustainability is driven by 2 percent of nearly 1,800 spending accounts funding government activities — mainly public health care programs and Social Security. The spending on those accounts is about 60 percent of gross spending over 10 years. It cannot indefinitely continue to increase faster than gross domestic product as currently projected. There must be reform.”

Unfortunately, the trajectory shows no signs of changing. Here’s what Donald Trump’s budget director, Mick Mulvaney, says transpired when he entertained the idea of Social Security reform: “I laid to [Trump] the options that Mick Mulvaney would put on a piece of paper. And he looked at one and said, ‘What is that?’ And I said, ‘Well, that’s a change to part of Social Security.’ He said, ‘No. No.’ He said, ‘I told people I wouldn’t change that when I ran. And I’m not going to change that. Take that off the list.’” Trump is right — he did pledge not to wrestle with Social Security. But that doesn’t make an overhaul any less important.

Mulvaney did go on to say, “I think the message to the House and Senate is, ‘Look, you go do what you think is best.’” And if Congress did reform these programs, he added, a Trump veto is “not a really conducive way to sort of maintain a relationship between the executive and the administrative branch. Let them pass that and let’s talk about it.” Trump has, at least tepidly, demonstrated a willingness to learn on the job, which is to say he has “shifted” on some policy positions. Regardless of whether that shift is strategic and calculated or truly genuine, let’s hope he eventually comes around on the importance of finally tackling our monstrous entitlement and welfare programs.

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