Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, in his book and speeches, assures us that the American people are ready to be treated like adults and are actually far ahead of politicians when it comes to entitlement reform. The Simpson-Bowles report asserted: “Throughout our nation’s history, Americans have found the courage to do right by our children’s future. Deep down, every American knows we face a moment of truth once again. We cannot play games or put off hard choices any longer. Without regard to party, we have a patriotic duty to keep the promise of America to give our children and grandchildren a better life.” Well, we’re going to find out if these debt hawks have over-estimated the American people.
As the trustees’ report on Social Security and Medicare solvency showed yesterday, by doing nothing to reform either program we are heading for the collapse of these retirement plans.
Like many Republicans, Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) pointed to the lack of presidential leadership. In a written statement he asserted:
“Today’s report confirms what Republicans have long said: The biggest threat to Medicare and Social Security is doing nothing, and the refusal of the White House and congressional Democrats to address our fiscal challenges will have devastating consequences for America’s seniors. Last year, we had an opportunity to begin to deal with our debt crisis and help save Social Security and Medicare for future generations of seniors, but the president lost his courage, moved the goal posts and demanded tax increases on small business job creators. The nation needs leaders who understand how our economy works; who understand we can’t tax our way back to prosperity; who have the courage needed to confront our nation’s serious problems.
“House Republicans, led by Chairman [Paul] Ryan, passed a responsible budget that would protect our seniors and save and strengthen our health and retirement security programs. It makes the necessary choices the president and his party refuse to make to address the staggering deficits and debt that are slowing our economic recovery, costing jobs, and threatening to destroy the American dream. . . .
NOTE: Among the findings from today’s Trustees Report: (1) the Medicare Part A Trust Fund will be exhausted in 2024; and (2) the Social Security trust fund will be exhausted in 2033, three years earlier than the trustees estimated last year.
For those congressional Republicans and Mitt Romney presidential campaign advisers who thought it too risky to put out something concrete or who cautioned against going “first” while the president held back, this is, I would hope, an object lesson. By showing political courage, Ryan and Romney (whose plans on Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security are virtually indistinguishable) have standing to go to the American people and make the case for a new president who will show leadership on our most critical domestic issue. Some in the conservative and mainstream media complain that Romney hasn’t demarcated all of his discretionary spending cuts. Aside from the fact he has done a lot (e.g. proposing the federal workforce shrinkage of 10 percent, eliminating Davis-Bacon contracting rules on the cost of labor), he has done something much more momentous, namely tell the American people what he would do on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
But what if the American people aren’t as mature as they have been cracked up to be? What if they buy into Mediscare and accept the notion that Ryan and Romney are trying to throw grandma over the cliff? Well then, Romney and the House Republicans are in trouble. The lesson to be learned will be never, ever show political leadership or level with the American people. And the chattering class, most of whom actually agree entitlement reform is essential, will, to the extent they defend Obama’s dereliction of duty and spout the entitlement-scare themes, be revealed to be sunshine patriots, phonies if you will, on a matter they identified as urgent.
I’m going to hope for the best, but will not be surprised by the degree of popular and media support Obama may receive for his irresponsibility. Really, if you can’t punish the politicians who deceive and shirk their obligations on this issue, when are you ever going to hold them accountable?