Entitlement programs such as Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid are on the verge of bankruptcy and are driving our country off a financial cliff. Everyone knows that, you say? Well, in the fantasyland of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, entitlement programs aren’t a serious problem at all.
Reid has said we shouldn’t even discuss the possibility of reforming Social Security for 20 years. That’s like a doctor telling a Stage IV cancer patient to wait a few years before starting treatment. And just a few days ago, Reid said the current calls for spending cuts and deficit reduction were irrelevant because the economy is improving and our nation will soon be in good fiscal shape. Never mind that a strong economy won’t do anything to meaningfully prolong the lives of Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security.
Reid’s statements are irresponsible and dangerous. And they are eliciting criticism from both Democrats and Republicans. This is not a partisan issue. All Americans should be disappointed in the leadership (or lack thereof) displayed by the Senate majority leader.
So what’s motivating Reid to make these disingenuous and preposterous claims?
One safe guess is that Reid lacks the political courage to reform entitlements. Reid doesn’t think Americans are smart enough to recognize that these programs need to be made solvent through benefit reductions and spending cuts. So he’s decided to kick the can down the road and risk these programs collapsing altogether. This is not what the American people expect from their elected representatives.
Maybe Reid is naïve and doesn’t understand the serious threats that these programs pose. But it’s hard to believe that someone of Reid’s intelligence could come to that conclusion. A more likely answer is willful blindness. Reid clearly is too scared to confront the problem. So like a teenager who gets into trouble, he’s denying everything and hoping the problem will go away. But as any teenager can tell you, the problem isn’t going away. It’s only going to get worse.
In 2010, Social Security spent more money than it took in. And the Congressional Budget Office predicts that Medicare spending will grow exponentially over the coming years. These programs are on the road to bankruptcy. Despite all the current debates about making cuts to the discretionary budget, these proposals are barely a drop in the bucket compared to the unfunded obligations in our entitlement programs.
But it’s impossible to fix the problem if you refuse to acknowledge it exists. And that’s why Harry Reid’s refusal to acknowledge the threat posed by Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid is so troubling.
Maybe this has all been an elaborate joke and Harry Reid will hold a press conference today to declare “April Fools.” But I won’t hold my breath — that would make me the fool.
David Meyers served in the White House from 2006 to 2009, and later in the United States Senate. He is currently pursuing graduate studies at Columbia University.