Should GOP wait to tackle entitlement reform?

posted at 12:55 pm on January 14, 2011 by Ed Morrissey

With the Republican takeover in the House, many fiscal conservatives and independents hoped to see serious budgetary reform as the focus of the 112ths session.  Did that include entitlement reform?  National Review’s Ramesh Ponnuru argues in the New York Times that the Republicans didn’t get a mandate for restructuring Social Security and Medicare, and that it should only be attempted if Barack Obama signs onto the project.  Otherwise, it will have to wait for a Republican President in 2013:

Would-be reformers should draw two lessons from this history. The first is that reform can’t be sprung on the electorate. Reagan hadn’t campaigned on cutting Social Security in 1980, nor did the Gingrich Republicans promise to reduce the growth of Medicare.

Today is no different: while some Republican candidates in the last election spoke forthrightly about the need to rein in these programs — notably Representative Ryan himself, but also new Senators Marco Rubio of Florida and Rand Paul of Kentucky — most of them didn’t.

As a result, if Republicans spend much of the next two years fighting over these programs, voters who depend on them are going to be unpleasantly surprised. Keep in mind that most voters oppose cuts to Social Security and Medicare, so they are likely to be very nervous about any proposals to restrain their growth, especially if opponents portray such cuts as excessive. Even worse, most members of Congress are not well informed about these programs, so they’ll have a hard time soothing public anxieties.

The second lesson is that presidential support for reform is a necessary, though not a sufficient, condition for success. As John Boehner, the new speaker of the House, said himself on election night, governing from Capitol Hill doesn’t work — the president has to set the agenda.

If Mr. Obama delivers a good-faith proposal for Social Security, for example in this month’s State of the Union address, then by all means Republicans should offer a serious counterproposal and, depending on their differences, negotiate. If he doesn’t, then Republicans should wait on a new president in 2013.

There are a couple of problems with this advice, however, chief among them Ponnuru’s optimism that Obama will lose his re-election bid in 2012.  If he doesn’t and still doesn’t want to talk about entitlement reform, what then?  In fact, his re-election could be seen as a mandate of approval for his entitlement expansion of ObamaCare, which will make pressing forward in 2013 even with a Congress fully controlled by the GOP somewhat awkward — and left in the same position as now, only with a bigger hole to fill.

Another problem is the looming debt ceiling question.  We are currently about $330 billion away from the ceiling now, which amounts to about three months of federal deficit spending at the current rate.  The flight towards the cap can be slowed a bit through the cuts Ponnuru suggests in non-entitlement spending, but not stopped altogether.  We need to strip about $1 trillion from the current budget on an annual basis to avoid breaching the debt limit.  Wage freezes for federal workers and eliminating funding for NPR and the National Endowment for the Arts won’t be enough.

For that matter, even entitlement reform won’t produce results fast enough to keep from hitting the cap, which is why Congress will almost certainly have to raise it.  But that move is opposed by 71% of the American public, which certainly looks like a mandate to make some drastic cuts to federal spending and structural changes to government.  Very clearly, the public has given the entire political class a mandate to end its borrowing spree and figure out a way to live within its means, and the moment to start doing that is now, not two years from now.

Politically, will such an effort succeed without having Obama on board?  Maybe not, but as the midterms and the year preceding it proved, the President doesn’t always set the agenda.  At the very least, an effort by Republicans in the House to seriously reform and reduce federal entitlement programs will demonstrate their credibility as fiscally responsible, and put more pressure on Obama to come up with his own plans to reform and reduce entitlements — just as the demand for welfare reform forced Bill Clinton to do the same.

Now is not the time for political caution.  Now is the time for bold action and setting the parameters of the debate.  Without that, Obama will easily get elected in 2012 and we’ll have to hear how the time is still not politically propitious to keep the US from falling over its debt cliff.

Update: In Gallup’s latest poll, it sure seems as though voters think Congress needs to tackle entitlement reform.  While Social Security and Medicare were not at the top of the list, 36% thought addressing Social Security was “extremely important” and 78% said it was either extremely or very important; the numbers on Medicare are 32% and 71%, respectively.


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Cut the spending; the agencies will reform by themselves.

BobMbx on January 14, 2011 at 12:56 PM

Raise the retirement age to 67 – tell people to get over it.

jake-the-goose on January 14, 2011 at 12:58 PM

RNC election is on C-SPAN right now, haven’t voted yet

commodore on January 14, 2011 at 12:59 PM

great analysis Ed

just like bubba with a gop congress, obama would get the credit if they tackle social security reform in a sensible way…
-
also, we did have a gop president who wanted to tackle SS reform 5 years ago but that didn’t happen…i know, i know it was a different time…

cmsinaz on January 14, 2011 at 1:00 PM

Momentum.

We’ve got one good chance at effecting real reform and real progress in bringing “government” down to appropriate size….along with a few other concerns of both real Conservatives and Libertarians as well.

We got lucky in November, to be perfectly honest.

We are up against a well-oiled and well-funded and highly-motivated machine as we approach 2012…why offer them an advantage by making trepid baby steps when full adult strides into the discourse and legislating are demanded?

I say, we go for it.

coldwarrior on January 14, 2011 at 1:01 PM

Ponnuru is absolutely right. I support entitlement reform. Hell, anyone who understands basic economics must. But the ONLY entitlement Republicans now have a mandate to reform is OBAMACARE. And they risk losing the majority necessary to repeal it if they touch that third rail right now. And unlike Democrats, Republicans should not spring vast new changes on the people without first running on them in an election.

American Elephant on January 14, 2011 at 1:02 PM

“There are a couple of problems with this advice, however, chief among them Ponnuru’s optimism that Obama will lose his re-election bid in 2012.”

What is wrong with Ponnuru being optimistic towards an Obama defeat in 2012?

Indy82 on January 14, 2011 at 1:02 PM

Raise the retirement age to 67 – tell people to get over it.

jake-the-goose on January 14, 2011 at 12:58 PM

I don’t want to get over it, I want be like Europe when the raise the retirenment age. You know, the more civilized continent.

WashJeff on January 14, 2011 at 1:03 PM

Entitlement Reform?………….

……doesn’t sound live a very “civil” thing to do. And it would require Cajones.

…..so of course the GOP should do nothing.

***BY THE WAY….Still no word on anyone (not running for the GOP 2012 Nomination) in the GOP defending the Tea Party, Palin or Conservative Talk Radio?

McCain…………STILL SILENT?

PappyD61 on January 14, 2011 at 1:03 PM

courage
Definition
cour·age
[ kúr ij ]
NOUN
1.
quality of being brave: the ability to face danger, difficulty, uncertainty, or pain without being overcome by fear or being deflected from a chosen course of action
“She showed great courage throughout this difficult time.”

gentlemen….please.

ted c on January 14, 2011 at 1:04 PM

We can’t afford for them to wait. They need to do the right thing and not worry about whether or not Obama gets credit for it.

flyfisher on January 14, 2011 at 1:04 PM

We can’t afford for them to wait. They need to do the right thing and not worry about whether or not Obama gets credit for it.

flyfisher on January 14, 2011 at 1:04 PM

agree

cmsinaz on January 14, 2011 at 1:05 PM

NO!

LincolntheHun on January 14, 2011 at 1:06 PM

Cut the spending; the agencies will reform by themselves.

BobMbx on January 14, 2011 at 12:56 PM

The Pappy Plan:
2 step process to cure America’s Fiscal woes (Federal and State).

1. SEAL THE BORDER WITH MEXICO(would save State budgets, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, Welfare, all kinds of Criminal activity would be reduced, housing prices would start to rise, etc.)

2. CUT SPENDING ACROSS THE BOARD 10%.(All agencies, “fairly” should feel the pinch….and actually it would probably just cut the built in growth)

That simple!

PappyD61 on January 14, 2011 at 1:06 PM

If they wait, who’s to say that they will be re-elected in such high numbers come 2012?

myrenovations on January 14, 2011 at 1:07 PM

flyfisher on January 14, 2011 at 1:04 PM

cmsinaz on January 14, 2011 at 1:05 PM

“There is no limit to what you can accomplish if you don’t care who gets the credit.” — Ronald Reagan

coldwarrior on January 14, 2011 at 1:08 PM

WashJeff on January 14, 2011 at 1:03 PM

Mmm… burning cars, looting, blockades, running out of fuel

Good times! /s

ExPat on January 14, 2011 at 1:08 PM

Whether or not Obama is “on board” or not, the critical lesson the Republican Party should have learned from their 2005 entitlement reform failure, and the clusterhump that was ObamaCare, is that you have to gain significant public support for any major change like that. You don’t do that with stealthy procedural votes in the dark of night, backroom deals, and other Washington insider crap.

You have to hit the pavement, go to town halls, go on news shows, blogs, etc., and sell the plan. Once you get enough public support, the Democrats will have to come along for the ride. The only trouble is that it takes a pretty big bully pulpit to do that, and it takes time–neither of which the GOP has at this point.

Bottom line: He’s right. Wait for 2013.

Outlander on January 14, 2011 at 1:08 PM

Raise the retirement age to 67 – tell people to get over it.

jake-the-goose on January 14, 2011 at 12:58 PM

I don’t want to get over it, I want be like Europe when the raise the retirenment age. You know, the more civilized continent.

WashJeff on January 14, 2011 at 1:03 PM

Well said.

jake-the-goose on January 14, 2011 at 1:08 PM

It’s a tough call, but it needs to be done. Not just from the very accurate point of view that it has become fiscally unsound it has also grown top heavy and unwieldly with all the rules and regulations in it’s jerry built structure(much of this is due to the unintended consequences of a meddling Congress). It has become a bureaucratic nightmare on a par with those in the Soviet Union back in the day.

jeanie on January 14, 2011 at 1:11 PM

This is the kind of politics-as-a-game crap that breeds babbling squishes like those “conservatives” who were slobbering over Osama Obama’s pep-rally speech. “Gee, if we do what is right and necessary NOW, we won’t get credit for it. Oh, no!”

Frankly, if Congress undoes everything the Traitor-in-Chief has foisted on us, and continues to do so, it won’t bother me a bit if he gets another term. Render him powerless, set the nation on its proper course as a limited-government, financially-responsible Constitutional Republic, and the Mohammedan Mouthpiece will dissolve like the Wicked Witch of the West.

MrScribbler on January 14, 2011 at 1:12 PM

We can’t afford for them to wait. They need to do the right thing and not worry about whether or not Obama gets credit for it.

flyfisher on January 14, 2011 at 1:04 PM

Doing the right thing has no timeline, this needs to be done now and who cares who gets the credit. You people act like Obama isn’t going to be re-elected. You may as well start the mourning process now ’cause he ain’t going anywhere until his full 8 has run it’s course.

darwin-t on January 14, 2011 at 1:12 PM

Did Roger Ailes contact HA and ask them to dial back too?

screwauger on January 14, 2011 at 1:13 PM

Canada’s dollar is worth more than our dollar today because Canada several years back decided that having a debt at near 70% of GNP was gonna get them nowhere.

John Stossel had a segment on Fox Business news last night on this very issue.

Might wish to check it out.

Better to do it now than wait…it’ll cost us a lot more later than it will now.

coldwarrior on January 14, 2011 at 1:13 PM

Like it coldwarrior
:)

cmsinaz on January 14, 2011 at 1:14 PM

How many times does this need to be said. Social Security, Medicare and Defense use up every single dime of revenue and then some. That’s not even including debt service. Discretionary spending isn’t what’s bankrupting us, the entitlements are.
How long can we wait?

lowandslow on January 14, 2011 at 1:17 PM

PappyD61 on January 14, 2011 at 1:06 PM

A 10% cut used to be enough, but the POR leadship team raised spending so high that 25% would be necessary to erase the deficit.

MAKE! IT! HAPPEN!

steveegg on January 14, 2011 at 1:17 PM

A 10% cut used to be enough, but the POR leadship team raised spending so high that 25% would be necessary to erase the deficit.

steveegg on January 14, 2011 at 1:17 PM

25% wouldn’t do anything. You could eliminate every single federal agency and not spend one dime on anything else and we would still be growing our debt. That’s how far off the rails entitlement spending is.

lowandslow on January 14, 2011 at 1:22 PM

As Tim gunn would say, “make it work”

cmsinaz on January 14, 2011 at 1:23 PM

Go Big or Go Home….we don’t time for vacillating on these ticking time bombs

David in ATL on January 14, 2011 at 1:25 PM

American Elephant on January 14, 2011 at 1:02 PM

Disagree. We can’t keep kicking that can down the road because it is not good politics. I’ve heard that my whole lifetime. That’s why we are where we are.

a capella on January 14, 2011 at 1:27 PM

Entitlement reform is definitely needed, but Republicans should go after the NEW entitlement (ObamaCare), whose “benefits” won’t be seen for three years yet, before going after OLD entitlements (Social Security and Medicare), that elderly voters (who generally vote Republican) depend on. Republicans do have a mandate to repeal ObamaCare and cut spending and deficits, so let’s go after the low-hanging fruit first.

Social Security reform is a thorny issue, and Republicans tried and failed to reform it in 2005, when they had both houses of Congress and the Presidency. That effort failed due to a lack of coordination and communication between President Bush and Congress–Bush was out of town campaigning for the reform, while Democrats monopolized the airwaves telling people that THEY “saved” Social Security by filibustering and doing nothing.

Social Security reform should not be rushed, but if it is brought up during this session of Congress, it should be well-thought-out behind closed doors before trying to present it and sell it to the public, with today’s Republicans hopefully learning from the mistakes of 2005. Then let the Republicans pass their plan through the House, and if it is blocked by the Senate or Obama, Democrats can be blamed for its failure during the 2012 campaign.

Medicare should be OFF the table during this session. One of the main reasons why elderly voters backed Republicans in 2010 is that ObamaCare cut Medicare funding to “pay for” mandatory health insurance for young people who need it and want it less. Republicans should strive to open opportunities for private health insurance, so that their will be less demand for Medicare, while keeping its funding levels intact.

Steve Z on January 14, 2011 at 1:28 PM

Better to do it now than wait…it’ll cost us a lot more later than it will now.

coldwarrior on January 14, 2011 at 1:13 PM

They also managed to exploit the tar sands… huge. Imagine what we could do if we got entitlement reform going and developed our natural resources. What we’re doing now is a form a national suicide – thanks to the leftists.

Cody1991 on January 14, 2011 at 1:28 PM

Raise the retirement age to 67 – tell people to get over it.

jake-the-goose on January 14, 2011 at 12:58 PM

It’s already been raised to 67. I am 54 and can’t collect full benefits until I am 66 yrs and 7 months. They phased in the 67 age over a several year period. I can start collecting partial benefits at 62. That age should also be changed, as long as I am grandfathered in, that is.

bopbottle on January 14, 2011 at 1:28 PM

Raise the retirement age to 67 – tell people to get over it.

jake-the-goose on January 14, 2011 at 12:58 PM

I’m 60. Nothing to get over here … so fine by me.

Rod on January 14, 2011 at 1:28 PM

Entitlement reform should address the VA disability schedule as well. Do you have sleep apnea? If you get it in service, you can get $770 monthly tax free for the rest of your live. That’s in addition to your military retirement.

Are you getting total disability from the VA? $2673 monthly tax free, in addition to your Social Security Disability of, say, $1200 (conservatively). Add $1700 (for an E7) for military retirement, which you can receive conceivably from age 38, after 20 years service, and Uncle Sugar is paying you $66,900 per annum.

I do not begrudge disabled vets who have serious impairments. But when a vet with lumbar strain, sleep apnea, and tinnitus gets essentially the same money as a double amputee, something is wrong with the system.

entropent on January 14, 2011 at 1:36 PM

25% wouldn’t do anything. You could eliminate every single federal agency and not spend one dime on anything else and we would still be growing our debt. That’s how far off the rails entitlement spending is.

lowandslow on January 14, 2011 at 1:22 PM

You’re looking a bit into the future (not far though). 25% is barely enough for now.

steveegg on January 14, 2011 at 1:37 PM

One of t he most effective legislative tools utilized by the 111th Congress was their pushing all sorts of varied legislation all at once…not just Obamacare…and along the way they got a lot of bad legislations written into law.

Hit the ground in the 112th the same way…get it all out on the table…focus on the larger goal not the nit-picking penny ante stuff…we must get our balance sheet balanced immediately.

We are Hemorrhaging money way past medical Class III levels….it must stop. We have cut our own ability to develop and exploit our own resources to our best advantage…this has got to be addressed immediately. There are so many programs in place thanks to the 111th Congress that if left unchecked those programs alone will drain what little blood we have in a matter of years, not decades.

We are in trauma. Heroic efforts need to be applied or we, the patient, will never survive.

coldwarrior on January 14, 2011 at 1:38 PM

Flatliners, cw

cmsinaz on January 14, 2011 at 1:47 PM

Cut federal work force, it’s called downsizing. My company went through it and I lost my job. You go do something else. If the military strength is cut, why can’t the feds cut all their departments.

Kissmygrits on January 14, 2011 at 1:49 PM

you take the 2007 budget, search and replace 2007 with 2011, and then figure it out…

as the expression goes: Just Do It

phreshone on January 14, 2011 at 1:55 PM

Do it. Tell the American people, in no uncertain terms, that you do not support social security, medicare, or medicaid. No parsing, no spin, just go and tell America what you really stand for.

ernesto on January 14, 2011 at 1:55 PM

You’re looking a bit into the future (not far though). 25% is barely enough for now.

steveegg on January 14, 2011 at 1:37 PM

No I’m not.

Total Federal Revenues: 2.105 Trillion
Social Security: 680 Billion
Medicare: 680 Billion
Defense: 780 Billion

Quick math 680 B + 680 B = 780 B = 2.14 Trillion

lowandslow on January 14, 2011 at 1:58 PM

Yes, they have raised full SS retirement to 67, yet you still have to apply for and get into Medicare at 65. Why wasn’t that raised at the same time? In my opinion, they need to raise both of these programs to 70, with early retirement maybe at 65, not 62.

We need to cut spending back to 2008, why not just do that? That would cut out almost 70% of the deficit. That is how much Obama ramped up spending.

karenhasfreedom on January 14, 2011 at 2:03 PM

No. Cut.it.ALL!!

jawkneemusic on January 14, 2011 at 2:13 PM

Ah, the New York Fish Wrapper:

“Would-be reformers should draw two lessons from this history. The first is that reform can’t be sprung on the electorate.”

Oh? Didn’t bother you when Barry, Nancy and Harry did it.

“The second lesson is that presidential support for reform is a necessary, though not a sufficient, condition for success.”

Huh? If not “a condition for success”, then obviously it’s not really needed. So we can scrub point #2.

Which brings us back to point #1.

The NYT’s – leftest gibberish every day, all the time.

GarandFan on January 14, 2011 at 2:13 PM

Paul Ryan did a one hour debate-format interview on
PJTV which pretty much covers everything.

I’ll send the link to tips. You may need to register to view it but it’s not yet behind the pay-wall.

gh on January 14, 2011 at 2:14 PM

The Paul Ryan link above is not direct. You have to follow
the link about 4 down in the right side-bar.

gh on January 14, 2011 at 2:17 PM

Raise the retirement age to 67 – tell people to get over it.

jake-the-goose on January 14, 2011 at 12:58 PM

It’s already 67 for anyone born in 1960 or later. I fall in that group. Which means I will NEVER see any of the money the fed.gov has stolen from me with this boondoggle.

The GOP doesn’t need to tackle entitlement reform at this very moment, but they need to start talking about it so it’s on the minds of voters in 2012.

Dominion on January 14, 2011 at 2:29 PM

It would be immoral to try and reform (meaning cut) so-called entitlement spending on Social Security while the greedy government union employees are so highly overpaid and overstaffed. It’s like using your new Cadillac to drop granny off at the hospital without ID because you don’t want to put her in a home.

No party can credibly make those cuts until everything else in the budget has been thoroughly slashed.

slickwillie2001 on January 14, 2011 at 2:32 PM

SS is a Ponzi scheme. Eventually they all collapse. Nothing can be done to save this Ponzi scheme.

angryed on January 14, 2011 at 2:45 PM

The Republicans’ last effort to control Congress began to fail when they did not even hold votes on 90% of the Contract in ’94. The excuse used then was what is urged here, “Why do this if the President will merely veto?” Take the votes, send the bills out and make him veto them. The optics of doing so will be encouraging to those who voted the new members in. The optics of failing to do so because of fear of the veto will bring the same empowering of the President and weakening of the Republicans as before.

Hucklebuck on January 14, 2011 at 2:50 PM

My personal idea is this: phase out SS, effective like 20 yrs down the road. Tell people 35 and younger (which is what I am) that basically you better invest for your retirement. Phase out benefits by age, oldest still get their bennies but the percentage dwindles the younger you go. No one is going to like it (which really doesn’t matter if we can’t afford it) but you can’t just yank the carpet out from underneath our senior citizens.

It’s not perfect, but it’s better than sticking your head in the sand and pretending that our finances are great (also known as the liberal plan).

search4truth on January 14, 2011 at 2:53 PM

Perhaps the best approach to reform entitlements is to find some cute 4 year old and have them sue SS for taking his liberty from him as a slave for past generations.

In a perfect, logical and constitutionally unchallenged world, the courts will say ‘yep’ SS is a generational enslavement scheme that needs to be reformed to be generationally fiscally neutral. In other words, whatever Congress comes up with, each generation needs to pay it’s own way as it passes on — then to make sure it’s gets everyone’s complete attention, include a closing statement that SS as we know it will sunset in 90 days.

R sumumlykzat

drfredc on January 14, 2011 at 3:03 PM

Here’s the bottom line. Regardless of what the GOP tries to do on entitlement reform, they can’t override a Presidential veto. So tackling that issue is pointless, and serves only to give Obama ammunition to help his reelection campaign.

There are plenty of changes we can make now that will help cut spending. Like changing how CBO scores bills. Like adding rules that limit earmarks. Like putting some teeth in Paygo. Like passing a line-item veto (one that can only be used to cut revenue items).

Don’t fight fights that you can’t win. Save those fights until you are stronger.

hawksruleva on January 14, 2011 at 3:04 PM

My personal idea is this: phase out SS, effective like 20 yrs down the road. Tell people 35 and younger (which is what I am) that basically you better invest for your retirement. Phase out benefits by age, oldest still get their bennies but the percentage dwindles the younger you go.
search4truth on January 14, 2011 at 2:53 PM

I like it. You could also buy out people’s Social Security accounts. That’s what a lot of big companies did. That would cost a lot now, but really cleans up our future debt issues. And people could put that money back to work in the economy, so Uncle Sam would end up getting a lot of it back.

hawksruleva on January 14, 2011 at 3:06 PM

They need to tackle welfare first. It is a poison for American culture that turnes decent people into deadbeats. Paying people to be useless and idle is always a foolish idea. If you follow the bouncing ball on welfare, the outcome is a disaster in far too many instances.

Yes, there are people that need it, but way too many people that are hooked on it would otherwise be productive. Being poor should be hell, and exiting that hell is a strong motivator th get off your butt. Making being poor a profitable endevour will no doubt incent people to ride the gravy train, and plenty do.

saiga on January 14, 2011 at 4:28 PM

I think that a lot of these “sure fail” attempts on entitlements should be made, but as part of a larger strategy. Get every Congresscritter on record. Choose spokespeople to explain to the American people why it needs to be done, and what will happen if we delay much longer.

No way will Obama sign onto the real dirty essentials, but this is about getting a stronger hold on Congress in 2012 as well as a conservative in the White House.

disa on January 14, 2011 at 10:38 PM