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THE MUSINGS OF A TRADITIONAL SOUTHERN DEMOCRAT

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Sid in his law office where he sits when meeting with clients. Observant eyes will notice the statuette of one of Sid's favorite Democrats.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Medicare and Social Security Costs? Out of Sight, Out of Mind - Combination of Factors Blunts Reform

Gerald Seib writes in The Wall Street Journal:

Two words seem to be slipping from the Washington vernacular: entitlement reform.

There was a time, not long ago, when both parties were at least paying lip service to the idea that the Social Security and Medicare entitlement programs—their long-term solvency in peril, their contributions to long-term deficits and debt daunting—needed to be adjusted before they either broke the bank or failed future retirees.

Now a combination of factors has blunted the reform drive. Declining short-term deficits, the salve of slower increases in health costs, the sheer failure of repeated attempts to find bipartisan common ground on changes, traditional Democratic reluctance and the growing dependence of Republicans on senior citizens’ votes all reduce Washington’s interest in tackling this toughest of problems.

Yet the need isn’t going away; it simply has slipped out of sight for now.

Indeed, the emergence of senior voters, once a core Democratic constituency, as a foundation of the Republican Party is one of the most striking trends in today’s politics.

In the 2014 midterm election—the one that brought full Republican control of Congress—GOP candidates won voters aged 65 and older by a whopping 16 percentage points, 57% to 41%, exit polls showed. Meanwhile, they lost voters aged 18 to 29 by 11 percentage points, 54% to 43%.

And in the latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, broader public sentiment toward the two parties is, if anything, even more starkly divided along generational lines. Fully 40% of those aged 65 and older reported positive feelings about the Republican Party—twice the share among those aged 18 to 34.

In any case, both parties, which a few years ago seemed driven by record budget deficits to the water’s edge on the subject of Medicare and Social Security changes, now don’t seem particularly inclined to take a dive into those shark-infested waters.

Indeed, some Democrats actually instead are pushing to increase Social Security benefits.

Meanwhile, here’s the long-term picture, as seen in the projections contained in a new analysis from the Congressional Budget Office: Social Security will rise in cost by 77% during the next decade, and Medicare by 89%, under current policies.

Meantime, the federal government’s bill for paying interest on the accumulating national debt will more than triple. Good luck getting any other domestic initiatives funded in that environment.

The need for sustained discussion and tough decisions to reduce the long-term cost of Medicare and Social Security is as real as ever, and the cost of avoiding it continues to rise.

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