Serving Up Social Security and Medicare, Without the Fixings

At the Washington Hilton, President Bush touted his modernization of Medicare, but acknowledged the program and Social Security are
At the Washington Hilton, President Bush touted his modernization of Medicare, but acknowledged the program and Social Security are "going broke." The panel he proposed three months ago to fix the programs has not been formed. (By Pablo Martinez Monsivais -- Associated Press)
By Dana Milbank
Tuesday, May 2, 2006

"The job of a president," George W. Bush used to say almost daily during the 2004 campaign, "is to confront problems, not to pass them on to future presidents and future generations."

Astute observers may have noticed he's been saying that a bit less frequently these days. Yesterday showed why.

The president was over at the Washington Hilton, speaking to the American Hospital Association about his Medicare Modernization Act of 2003. "When I came into office I found a Medicare program that was outdated," he announced. Seeing this "not very cost-effective" program, he continued, "I decided to do something about it. And I worked with the Congress, and we passed critical legislation that modernizes Medicare."

An hour after Bush finished his speech, Treasury Secretary John W. Snow kicked off a news conference announcing the latest on Medicare's financial standing. The "modernized," cost-effective program is forecast to go belly-up in 2018 -- two years earlier than previously forecast.

Somebody stop us before we reform again.

Snow also announced that Social Security -- reform of which the Bush administration abandoned last year -- will become insolvent in 2040, a year earlier than previously projected.

The Treasury secretary warned of "a looming financial crisis for our nation."

Medicare and Social Security trustee Thomas Saving chimed in, "Either government is going to have to be a lot smaller, or these programs are going to have to be dramatically changed."

Bush himself, while talking about the success of his addition of prescription-drug coverage to Medicare, acknowledged that both programs are, as he put it, "going broke." He added, "It's time to set aside politics and restructure Social Security and Medicare for generations to come."

Then again, what's the hurry?

In his State of the Union address, the president called for a bipartisan commission to study Medicare and Social Security. Lawmakers immediately recognized that as a punt. Now it seems the punt is being followed by a delay-of-game penalty. More than three months after Bush proposed the commission, there is no commission and no commissioners; he has mentioned the idea only twice since January.

"Well," Snow ad-libbed yesterday when asked about the commission, "it's being worked hard." Asked to elaborate, he said, "there's outreach by the White House."

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