If Mr. Obama decides to talk, he’ll find that we actually agree on some things. For example, most of us agree that gradual, structural reforms are better than sudden, arbitrary cuts. For my Democratic colleagues, the discretionary spending levels in the Budget Control Act are a major concern. And the truth is, there’s a better way to cut spending. We could provide relief from the discretionary spending levels in the Budget Control Act in exchange for structural reforms to entitlement programs.
These reforms are vital. Over the next 10 years, the Congressional Budget Office predicts discretionary spending—that is, everything except entitlement programs and debt payments—will grow by $202 billion, or roughly 17%. Meanwhile, mandatory spending—which mostly consists of funding for Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security—will grow by $1.6 trillion, or roughly 79%. The 2011 Budget Control Act largely ignored entitlement spending. But that is the nation’s biggest challenge.
The two political parties have worked together on entitlements before. In 1982, Social Security’s trustees warned Congress that the program would go bankrupt within a year. If it had, seniors would have seen an immediate cut in their benefits. Instead, Congress passed a package of reforms—the most important of which was an increase in the retirement age. Because Congress phased in this reform over time, there were no budget savings in the first five years. But through 2012, the savings were $100 billion. In the next 75 years, Social Security’s actuaries expect that these reforms will save $4.6 trillion.