None of the three Republicans officially entering the White House race this week appear to be willing to go on the record supporting entitlement reform.
Over the last several years, most elected Republicans on the federal level have taken the stand that reforming Social Security, Medicaid and especially Medicare are urgent priorities. That’s not exactly a cost-free position to take politically — at least, so says conventional wisdom — but with those programs loaded with over 80 trillion dollars in unfunded liabilities, it does seem to be a necessary position to take if you would like America to avoid economic catastrophe.
But it appears former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, who both officially entered the White House race Monday, and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who is expected to officially enter the race Tuesday, intend to run their campaigns opposing entitlement reform, or at least trying to avoid talking about about it.
In an interview with The Weekly Standard, Fiorina said she would only discuss the possibility of raising the retirement age on Social Security once the government eliminated waste and abuse.
“When we are satisfied that we don’t have hundreds upon hundreds of billions of dollars of waste, abuse, and corruption, then let’s start talking about raising the retirement age for Social Security,” she said.
An email to her campaign asking what needs to be done — if anything — to make Medicare sustainable was not returned. But the “let’s deal with waste, abuse and corruption first” argument is a dodge. The economic burden posed by government “waste, abuse and corruption,” however problematic, is small compared to the threat posed by America’s unfunded entitlement liabilities.
Ben Carson seems to be taking a similar position to Fiorina.
“I don’t think we should even talk about entitlements until we fix the economy,” he told the Christian Broadcasting Network last year.
Carson’s campaign did not return a request for comment on whether Carson ultimately favors means testing for Medicare or raising the retirement age for Social Security, or whether he just intends to attempt to avoid the topic of entitlement reform altogether during his campaign.
As for Huckabee, who once championed entitlement reform, he now says he will fight to protect the programs, not necessarily try to reform them.
“Washington has done enough lying and stealing,” he said in a video released before his campaign’s official launch. “I’ll never rob seniors of what our government promised them and even forced them to pay for.”
He also recently lashed out at Chris Christie for proposing to gradually raise the eligibility age for Social Security and Medicare.
This isn’t leadership. It’s pandering.
Other potential GOP contenders are taking a different approach than Carson, Fiorina and Huckabee. Marco Rubio, Scott Walker, Jeb Bush and Christie, for instance, have all spoken out about the dire need for serious entitlement reform.
The question is: Considering the enormity of the issue and the threat it poses to America’s future, should refusing to recognize the urgent need to reform America’s entitlement programs disqualify a candidate from being viewed as a serious contender?
The answer, of course, is yes it should. Will it? That’s another question altogether.