While Democrats talk endlessly of tax increases, two key editorials today remind President Obama and Democrats that entitlement reform is critical to solving the nation’s fiscal crisis.
The Washington Post editors write today, “Democrats . . . are sounding more and more maximalist in resisting spending cuts. Many insist that Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and education — pretty much everything except the Pentagon — are untouchable. Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin (Ill.) . . . said Tuesday that, while he favors reform of entitlement programs, it shouldn’t be part of the negotiations on the fiscal cliff. The Post’s Greg Sargent reported that union leaders and other liberals came away from a White House meeting encouraged that administration officials agree. ‘They expect taxes to go up on the wealthy and to protect Medicare and Medicaid benefits,’ one attendee said. ‘They feel confident that they don’t have to compromise.’ Don’t have to compromise?”
They point out, “Since 60 percent of the federal budget goes to entitlement programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, there’s no way to achieve balance without slowing the rate of increase of those programs. This could be accomplished in a progressive manner, shielding the poorest beneficiaries from cuts. But that seems less likely to be achieved if progressives boycott serious negotiations by pretending that Social Security and Medicare are sustainable with no reform at all. Mr. Obama has understood this since at least 2009, when he told The Post’s editorial board that he would tackle entitlement reform.”
“Four years later,” The Post editors write, “has the moment arrived? Since his reelection, Mr. Obama has fueled a campaign-style effort to pressure Republicans to give ground on taxes. . . . . At some point, he has to prepare the American people — and his own supporters most of all — for the ‘hard decisions’ required to put the country on a sound financial footing. That means spending cuts, it means entitlement reform, it means compromise . . . . Only one person is in a position to make it happen.”
Meanwhile, USA Today editorializes, “Do Democrats really believe Social Security doesn’t contribute to federal deficits and the national debt? They’re certainly saying it a lot: ‘Social Security does not add one penny to our debt, not a penny,’ Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, insisted Sunday on ABC’sThis Week. During Monday’s briefing at the White House, press secretary Jay Carney repeated the theme: ‘We should address the drivers of the deficit, and Social Security is not currently a driver of the deficit — that’s an economic fact.’ Well, saying it’s a fact doesn’t make it so.
“Durbin, Carney and others making that claim should take a look at the president’s own budget to see what’s really going on. On page 465 of the budget’s ‘Analytical Perspectives,’ they’ll find a chart showing that Social Security ran a deficit of $48 billion last year. This year, Social Security will come up $50.7 billion short. In 2015, as more Baby Boomers retire, the gap between cash in and cash out is expected to reach $86.6 billion. Need a second source? In a report released last month, the Congressional Budget Office said Social Security benefits began exceeding payroll tax revenue in 2010, and without changes, the program will never get back into balance. Denying this harsh reality requires playing accounting shell games and believing (or pretending to believe) that Social Security can be bailed out by its trust fund. And if you believe that, we have a bridge to sell you in Brooklyn.”
USA Today concludes, “Social Security represents more than one-fifth of federal spending, much too big to ignore. The likeliest fixes are well known. These include raising the cap on income subject to the payroll tax, tying cost-of-living adjustments more closely to actual inflation, and bumping up the retirement age for able-bodied future retirees. The sooner these changes are made, the less painful they will be. But shoring up the program starts with politicians telling the truth about how Social Security works. That’s something the White House and congressional Democrats apparently think the public can’t handle.”
And yet according to Politico today, “Congressional Democrats are starting to draw a much tougher line on entitlements in the increasingly messy fiscal cliff talks, warning Republicans to keep their hands off Social Security and Medicare benefits. Democrats also say they’ll refuse to look at GOP calls to dramatically slash Medicaid. . . . On Tuesday, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) went even further with a fresh push for negotiators to keep all entitlement discussions out of the fiscal cliff talks, and instead keep the focus solely on taxes and automatic spending cuts.”
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