The Government Accountability Office has put out their own long-term simulation of the U.S. fiscal situation. Their results – like anyone else who has looked at the long-term budget – is not good. There’s simply a fundamental arithmetic problem: entitlements have tied the federal government to spending obligations that will be nearly impossible to keep.
This isn’t much different from any other long-term buget forecast, but the GAO does have their own assumptions about both the policy baseline and what they call the “alternative scenario” in which politicians are unable to hold themselves to policies that would slow the growth of spending. But one chart included in this report puts our retirement entitlements in sharp focus, and should illustrate clearly why this is an urgent problem:
Look at that jump between 2011 and 2012. We’ve entered a world in which significantly more people are becoming eligible for Medicare and Social Security every single day. There’s no going back to the first decade of the 2000s. By the end of the decade, more than ten thousand people will be becoming eligible for retirement entitlements every single day.
Here’s how the GAO projects our “baseline” scenario – assuming little major policy change:
Notice how “all other spending” shrinks as we go along, while our health spending and social security spending increases. What’s more, the fastest-growing portion of federal spending is mere interest on the debt. If nothing else, getting debt interest under control should be an urgent priority.
Yes, this might be merely another report on the disaster of the federal budget that we could safely shuffle aside while Washington politicians focus on the pressing issues, like minimum wage hikes and the Kochs. But look: this continues to be an incredibly important challenge, and one that probably isn’t going to be addressed any time soon. That’s the scandal here.