President Obama’s dearth of leadership on entitlement reform has consequences. The Wall Street Journal reports:
Social Security and Medicare, the two largest portions of the federal safety net, continued to deteriorate in the last year, with the programs’ trustees projecting the combined Social Security retirement and disability programs will exhaust their trust fund three years sooner than previously thought.
The trustees for the two programs said in their annual report that the long-run deficit projections for both Social Security and Medicare worsened over the last year, putting the onus on U.S. policy makers to address the problems sooner rather than later to avoid hurting seniors, low-income households and others who depend on the program. . . .
The trustees said the single-year deterioration in the combined Social Security program’s long-term deficit was the largest since 1994.
Douglas Holtz-Eakin and Michael Ramlet from the American Action Forum provide some useful detail. They write: “In 2011, Medicare spent $549.1 billion on medical services for America’s seniors but only collected $260.8 billion in payroll taxes and monthly premiums. Trustees have now issued a funding warning for 7 straight years.” The bottom line: “ The cash shortfall is responsible for over one-fourth of the federal debt accumulated since 2001.”
Meanwhile, the Government Accountability Office put out its own report, telling the Obama administration to stop wasting $8.35 billion on a Medicare “experiment.” The administration’s “Quality Bonus Payment Demonstration” was a scheme to give bonuses to Medicare Advantage programs, largely offsetting the cuts to that program required by Obamacare. Phil Klein explains that “the Obama administration has not specifically explained how it is going to pay for the [bonus] program. Remember, savings from cutting Medicare are supposed to be used to finance the coverage expansions in Obamacare. The GAO writes that, ‘(White House Office of Management and Budget) officials told us that they considered the costs of the demonstration in the context of other administrative actions in the Medicare program that are expected to generate savings. However, they did not confirm whether specific offsets were identified to account for the total costs of the demonstration.’”
Simply put, one Ponzi scheme to hide another Ponzi scheme has been given thumbs down by the GAO.
As you would expect, the Romney campaign jumped on the news. In a statement on Medicare, the campaign blasted the president: “Today’s report reminds us that Medicare must be reformed and strengthened or it will soon collapse. It also reminds us that President Obama continues to play shell games with the health care of our seniors, taking hundreds of billions from Medicare to spend on Obamacare and now using a bogus experiment to conceal the damage until after the election. President Obama has offered no serious plan of his own, preferring instead to attack and point fingers over problems he refuses to address. Mitt Romney has a comprehensive plan to preserve Medicare for today’s seniors while ensuring that it remains strong for future generations.”
Taken together, the trustees’ and GAO reports remind us of one of Obama’s most significant domestic failing: his lack of will to address our entitlement programs that are central to a real reduction in our national debt. Yuval Levin of the Ethics and Public Policy Center writes: “It is just not true that nothing gets done in Washington. Lots gets done, and there is really only one kind of thing that we are truly failing to do: genuine fiscal reform, which means particularly entitlement reform. Our failure to do this is indeed leading us toward a huge crisis, but the usual liberal complaints about partisanship are more often used as a way of avoiding dealing with this coming crisis than as a way of confronting it.” Worse than that, Obama has vilified those Republicans who have stepped up to the plate with concrete reforms for Medicare (as well as Medicaid and Social Security), making any progress virtually impossible.
Obama’s refusal to lead on entitlement reform is one of Mitt Romney’s better arguments for his presidency. Obama won’t lead; Romney has already set out Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security reform. There is no guarantee that he will have the nerve or skill to push those through, but he’s already done more than Obama has in over three years in the White House.