Entitlements

Crying 'Wolf' on Entitlements?

Social Security and Medicare really are in big trouble, but most Americans just don't care.

Brian Mark Weber · Jun. 8, 2018

Social Security. It’s the metaphorical Third Rail of American politics. But if we don’t act soon, both Social Security and Medicare are heading off the tracks.

“Sure,” you say. “How many times have we heard that before?”

It’s almost as though the American people have become deaf to the repeated calls for Social Security reform. And it’s no wonder. We hear about it ad nauseam every election cycle, and then, when the dust settles, our elected representatives kick that can down the road. All the while, people still receive their monthly checks, so any collapse in the system seems to be a problem for the next generation. After all, why deal with something when it’s not hitting us now?

Well, that “now” moment is looming, and it’s going to be painful if we don’t act soon.

Ben Shapiro writes, “Medicare and Social Security, along with Medicaid, represent a majority of the federal budget each year, and represent mandatory spending. And Social Security has been running a negative cash flow for years. Our gigantic national debt number doesn’t include unfunded liabilities to these programs. According to some studies, if we include expected shortfalls from Medicare and Social Security in the debt, our debt is actually $90.6 trillion.”

And what has Congress done about it? Nothing.

It’s one thing for Democrats to be irresponsible with the federal purse, but Republicans have had plenty of opportunities over the past two decades when they either held both houses of Congress or all three branches of government. In each case, Republicans acted with the same willful neglect.

Or they failed to act out of fear of being demonized.

Every time a conservative politician utters the words “Social Security reform,” Democrats warn that grandma will be thrown off the cliff. No, really. In 2012, the leftist Agenda Project Action Fund launched an ad showing a man meant to look like then-House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan pushing a wheelchair-bound senior off a cliff. If you think those ads aren’t effective, consider that Speaker Ryan hasn’t talked much about saving Social Security or Medicare since.

And while President Donald Trump has been effective in cutting taxes and rolling back federal regulations, he signed more spending into law and, as a candidate, promised not to touch entitlements. If the most brazen outsider ever to win the presidency won’t reform entitlements, who will?

Democrats, of course, have the answer to fixing our entitlement mess: raise taxes on “the rich.”

But what about that Social Security lock box or trust fund that we always hear about?

As the Washington Examiner’s Philip Klein reports, “The ‘trust fund’ is actually an accounting fiction that pretends that spending doesn’t ultimately all come from the bank accounts of taxpayers. But the conceit is that because the federal government for decades used money intended for Social Security to pay for other extravagant spending, the Treasury built up IOUs to the Social Security program that enable it to keep up with benefits. By 2034, however, those past program surpluses will be spent, meaning that benefits will have to be slashed by 25 percent for Americans who are around 50 years old right now.”

More immediately, Social Security’s costs are projected to exceed its income this year for the first time since 1982, forcing the government to “unlock” the lock box. Again. Worse, The Daily Signal’s Romina Boccia notes, “Social Security is still considered solvent and able to pay full benefits because it has accumulated a $2.9 trillion trust fund, but since the entirety of its trust fund consists of IOUs, cash-flow deficits must be financed by general revenue taxes or new public borrowing.”

Meanwhile, if nothing is done about Medicare, the program will run out of money in 2026 — just eight years from now. Yes, Democrats promised us that ObamaCare would save Medicare. But according to Investor’s Business Daily, “Despite the 167 changes made by ObamaCare and the $700 billion in supposed savings, Medicare’s doomsday prediction is exactly where it was 18 years ago.”

It seems like the only solution out there involves the government taking more and giving back less to the American people. But real, commonsense solutions have been proposed. For example, private retirement accounts for younger workers just might break our dependency on a troubled government entitlement that’s on its death bed. Such ideas are innovative but complex. Implementing them will take a real effort by members of Congress who up until now have avoided Social Security like the plague.

With Republicans holding more political power in Washington than they’ve enjoyed in a century, the time is now for conservatives to finally show some true leadership. Thirty years ago, 2034 seemed like forever. Now, forever is practically here.

The inconvenient truth, however, is that most Americans don’t want politicians to fix it. Everyone is entitled to the money they paid into the system, after all, lest Social Security be exposed as the Ponzi scheme it really is. Thus, a conservative minority is left to cry “wolf” to a disinterested American people —only this time, the wolf is really out there.

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