Is Washington on the verge of finally having a real discussion about entitlement programs?

posted at 3:21 pm on February 15, 2016 by Jazz Shaw

I realize that the title of this column sounds like either sarcasm or some alternate reality sci-fi novel, but the growing reality of The Maths may be sinking in among at least some Washington insiders. The budget, the deficit and the national debt aren’t getting nearly as much play this election season as they deserve (an understatement if there ever was one), but discussions have been taking place as the President’s most recent spending plans have gone under the microscope. At the Washington Post, Robert J. Samuelson examines the lack of candor in our government’s financial circus and the fact that projections which run only over the next decade hold some sobering news.

He begins by noting that the portion of our budget where we even allow any semblance of flexibility (discretionary spending) continues to shrink while the mandatory spending (dominated by entitlement programs) grows like a rapidly metastasizing cancer. This is a recipe for a squeeze, as he describes it. Here’s the chilling part:

How severe is the squeeze? The answer is in table S-7, buried in the back of the budget. Almost one-third of the federal budget consists of “discretionary spending,” which covers defense, courts, parks and all programs requiring annual congressional appropriations (essentially, permission to spend). Most of the rest of the budget goes to “mandatory” programs — Social Security is the biggest — for which people qualify if they meet eligibility requirements…

From 2017 to 2026, Social Security spending rises 27 percent, Medicare is up 30 percent and Medicaid increases 24 percent (note: some Medicaid spending goes to the non-elderly). Meanwhile, defense spending falls 19 percent, and non-defense discretionary spending (the category that includes the courts, regulatory agencies, the national parks and much more) drops 16 percent.

Some discretionary programs will always, either for political reasons or genuine need, grow more rapidly than inflation and population. Cybersecurity is a present example. But they are the exceptions. Current policy is for most discretionary programs to do more with less — a formula for ultimate failure. The squeeze in any one year is small; the cumulative effect is huge.

If you don’t find this alarming then you haven’t been paying attention. These programs are currently beyond the reach of reform efforts through the normal budgeting process and they are growing faster than any reasonably expected boost in national productivity could account for. And rather than addressing the issue, it’s become increasingly popular to expand them all the faster on the state level. Just look at what happened in Ohio after Governor John Kasich threw open the doors to more Medicaid. He originally predicted that the total number of new enrollees in the program might be in the range of 400K over ten years. But int he first four years alone they have added 609,000 at a cost of an additional $6B annually. This pattern is repeating in other places.

Returning to Samuelson, regardless of how unlikely it may seem, he argues that the time for candor on the budget front is not only overdue, but approaching the point of inevitability.

Candor would compel clarity. Why do we have budget deficits? The main reason is a fundamental mismatch between what the public wants from government and what it is willing to pay in taxes. The fact that we’ve had only five budget surpluses since 1961 eliminates the business cycle as a central cause. The annual gap between our wants and needed taxes is at least $500 billion and possibly twice that.

Further: The basic conflict posed by the budget is not between rich and poor but between workers and retirees. Present policy favors retirees over workers — the past over the present and future — because, politically, tampering with benefits is off-limits. The rest of government absorbs the fiscal consequences of an aging population.

We aren’t talking about some far off, dystopian future here. This is something that turns into an imminently destructive force in the next decade. For the majority of voters following the news today, it’s not a question of what they will leave for their children, but very real effects which could collapse their own retirement plans. This house of cards will eventually come down, but there may still be time to make adjustments to at least push the collapse significantly further into the future.

SocialSecurityOffice


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Comments

No comment.

Ciao, Jazz.

See you on Twitter.

PolAgnostic on February 15, 2016 at 3:23 PM

No. Duh. FFS.

Jedditelol on February 15, 2016 at 3:23 PM

ASK ZUCKERKAPO.

OTW NO COMMENT.

avi natan on February 15, 2016 at 3:26 PM

Like if “Pretty Little Liars” brought you here!

shawk on February 15, 2016 at 3:26 PM

A real discussion like on FB…..

:(

MontanaMmmm on February 15, 2016 at 3:27 PM

You are the best writer on the site Jazz. They needed more like you!

I am going to miss coming here.

sharrukin on February 15, 2016 at 3:27 PM

Is Washington on the verge of finally having a real discussion about entitlement programs?

No, they’re going to use facebook instead.

Flange on February 15, 2016 at 3:28 PM

No comment.

56andwarmweather on February 15, 2016 at 3:29 PM

Find true love. I did not believe it could happen as my man left me two years ago for another woman. But I contacted Yogi Rava Sharmusknakar who is a transcendental cosmic lover healing specialist and it changed my life. You can have the love I have known. Just click on the FB link.

shawk on February 15, 2016 at 3:29 PM

Is Washington on the verge of finally having a real discussion about entitlement programs?

…apparently HA isn’t…and BTW I respect your work Jazz…

Pelosi Schmelosi on February 15, 2016 at 3:29 PM

Warning: This site will self-destruct in 8 hrs.

shawk on February 15, 2016 at 3:30 PM

No, they’re going to use facebook instead.

Flange on February 15, 2016 at 3:28 PM

…gonna miss your comments Flange…always witty, frequently LOL funny…

Pelosi Schmelosi on February 15, 2016 at 3:30 PM

My comment got eaten by a facebook grue.

rbj on February 15, 2016 at 3:31 PM

LOVE HAS NO LABELS!
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PnDgZuGIhHs

avi natan on February 15, 2016 at 3:32 PM

Aw! This is the end of an era.

Thanks to all of you who were with the Hot Air team when we launched this enterprise in 2006.

I’m forever grateful to all of you original readers and longtime commenters who made this one of the best communities in the conservative blogosphere!

Michelle on February 15, 2016 at 2:09 PM

d1carter on February 15, 2016 at 3:32 PM

…gonna miss your comments Flange…always witty, frequently LOL funny…

Pelosi Schmelosi on February 15, 2016 at 3:30 PM

Yeah, I’ll miss you too, this site was fun. Oh well, I got my money’s worth from the site.

Flange on February 15, 2016 at 3:32 PM

[comment deleted-user banned]

Mark Z.

fossten on February 15, 2016 at 3:34 PM

HAVE YOU HUGGED SMOKEY THE BEAR?
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=02qzeV00-EQ

avi natan on February 15, 2016 at 3:34 PM

From 2017 to 2026, Social Security spending rises 27 percent, Medicare is up 30 percent and Medicaid increases 24 percent (note: some Medicaid spending goes to the non-elderly). Meanwhile, defense spending falls 19 percent, and non-defense discretionary spending (the category that includes the courts, regulatory agencies, the national parks and much more) drops 16 percent.

…I would suspect the budget for Health and Human Services skyrockets as well (too lazy to read thru 182 pages of that budget)…

Pelosi Schmelosi on February 15, 2016 at 3:36 PM

Does FB allow the word Woo- kie?

shawk on February 15, 2016 at 3:37 PM

fossten on February 15, 2016 at 3:34 PM

…keep up the good fight fossten and good luck…

Pelosi Schmelosi on February 15, 2016 at 3:37 PM

From 2017 to 2026, Social Security spending rises 27 percent, Medicare is up 30 percent and Medicaid increases 24 percent (note: some Medicaid spending goes to the non-elderly). Meanwhile, defense spending falls 19 percent, and non-defense discretionary spending (the category that includes the courts, regulatory agencies, the national parks and much more) drops 16 percent.

…I would suspect the budget for Health and Human Services skyrockets as well (too lazy to read thru 182 pages of that budget)…

Pelosi Schmelosi on February 15, 2016 at 3:36 PM

NO COMMENT

avi natan on February 15, 2016 at 3:38 PM

Does FB allow the word Woo- kie?

shawk on February 15, 2016 at 3:37 PM

…only on days that don’t end in “Y”…

Pelosi Schmelosi on February 15, 2016 at 3:38 PM

No comment

Rode Werk on February 15, 2016 at 3:39 PM

[HATE SPEECH DETECTED – COMMENT FORWARDED TO IRS FOR REVIEW]

shawk on February 15, 2016 at 3:39 PM

…time to open the vault…

2020:
Hillary walks the crowd as they scream, 4 MORE YEARS!
artist on May 26, 2015 at 10:26 PM

You think she’ll be in front of the parole board that soon?
Flange on May 26, 2015 at 10:28 PM

Pelosi Schmelosi on February 15, 2016 at 3:41 PM

I’m here to educate a crowd that is shockingly out of touch with reality and is constantly fed a diet of lies by the righty echo chamber (and each other).
Tlaloc on August 4, 2015 at 4:06 PM

Pelosi Schmelosi on February 15, 2016 at 3:42 PM

No comment.

Walter L. Newton on February 15, 2016 at 3:48 PM

See you on the other side.

Mu on February 15, 2016 at 3:48 PM

Hello my real name Mikeala Lotsofsexvinak. Look for me on RussianBridesoforhotarians on my facebook page.

jaywemm on February 15, 2016 at 3:50 PM

Pelosi Schmelosi on February 15, 2016 at 3:41 PM

Pelosi Schmelosi on February 15, 2016 at 3:42 PM

These are gold.

No further comment.

ChicagoJewishGuy on February 15, 2016 at 3:52 PM

Comments are now Sharia compliant

3.14159 on February 15, 2016 at 3:56 PM

No.

And that shall be my final Hot Gas comment.

NY2SC on February 15, 2016 at 4:01 PM

There goes the community. Losing Scalia and HotAir in two days… week’s not starting off well.

MT on February 15, 2016 at 4:04 PM

PLAY CANDY CRUSH SAGA

playblu on February 15, 2016 at 4:11 PM

No comment.

mpower on February 15, 2016 at 4:18 PM

For the majority of voters following the news today, it’s not a question of what they will leave for their children, but very real effects which could collapse their own retirement plans. This house of cards will eventually come down, but there may still be time to make adjustments to at least push the collapse significantly further into the future.

Anyone want to bet the US gvt won’t try to seize our assets when they run out of money to pay for the poor of the world they insist on letting come here illegally?

Thanks for all your hard work and great posts, Jazz.

talkingpoints on February 15, 2016 at 4:19 PM

A sales tax to pay for social security and Medicare rather than a payroll tax makes much sense. Seniors get the outflow of these programs but no longer make contibutions to it. To raise the payroll tax rate on current workers to cover the gap between what comes in and what goes out would discourage employment and working. A sales tax is paid by everyone proportional to their means (i.e. spending) and results in seniors helping to pay for the benefits they understandably do not want to cut. If I paid 7.65% during my career but we need 11% from workers to balance the books, I would have made out better than the young (usually less affluent) workers. Why would the young not revolt if they think the house of cards will collapse before they reach retirement age and between lower wage jobs, student debt, a stagnant economy and higher payroll taxes cannot afford to marry, buy a home, have children etc?

KW64 on February 15, 2016 at 4:21 PM

No comment.

Get busy living on February 15, 2016 at 4:22 PM

No comment.

Bee on February 15, 2016 at 4:24 PM

[email protected] Facebook!

Patriot Vet on February 15, 2016 at 4:25 PM

No Comment

turfmann on February 15, 2016 at 4:27 PM

Comments are now Sharia compliant

3.14159 on February 15, 2016 at 3:56 PM

…bwa-a-a-a-a-a-a-hahahahahahahahaha….

Pelosi Schmelosi on February 15, 2016 at 4:27 PM

Does FB allow the word Woo- kie?

shawk on February 15, 2016 at 3:37 PM

Wооkiе & Sаsquаtсh

Rix on February 15, 2016 at 4:29 PM

talkingpoints on February 15, 2016 at 4:19 PM

That’s why they want to take your 401(k). Politicians realize they are up against it – taxpayers aren’t going to give you more than 18-20% of GDP on a regular basis. Their regulations are slowing that growth down and their bribery of voters to fuel their re-election requires money.

Zomcon JEM on February 15, 2016 at 4:31 PM

Go ask Suckerberg

Tard on February 15, 2016 at 4:34 PM

Jazz,

After this morning’s HA meltdown, I’ve been debating whether to keep Hot Air on my politics webzine or not. This twitter feed from Ed made it a really easy decision:

https://twitter.com/EdMorrissey/status/699330207212113920

Jason58 on February 15, 2016 at 3:59 PM

So this post has nothing to do with the thread – only to to say that in the brief time I’ve been a commenter at HA, I’ve always enjoyed your posts – there’s always a humility to them that is engaging. We’ll watch for you on twitter. Won’t be back here for all of the reasons people gave in Ed’s thread. Ed needs to remember that what the internet built, it can also take away. There’s nothing so pathetic as a faux Christian. He’s a disgrace to HA and Salem.

Skip2014 on February 15, 2016 at 4:50 PM

Jazz, please provide the links to other sites that you Blog.
Thanks for all of the great info, smart conservative insight and fun over the years.

SayNo2-O on February 15, 2016 at 5:02 PM

No Comment.

CT96 on February 15, 2016 at 6:08 PM

I was alarmed back in the 80s and 90s when there was some hope of actually doing something about it without nuking the economy. But both Republicans and Democrats were too focused on buying votes with Federal dollars to give a crap about their children and grandchildren.

Now I’m just resigned to sit around and watch the apocalypse until I take a stray bullet or get vaporized.

And since HotAir is moving to Facebook, many pundits and spiritual leaders agree that here and now, all the signs of the apocalypse have finally been revealed. :\

s1im on February 15, 2016 at 6:19 PM