Medicare, Social Security, and Funny Money

“[Adding to the national debt] would be a self-inflicted wound on the economy.  To even entertain the idea of this happening is irresponsible.  It’s absurd.” - Rep. Trey Gowdy, January 14, 2013


Trey Gowdy was a vocal debt and deficit hawk when President Obama was in office.  But with President Trump and the recent effort to cut taxes and increase the federal debt by $1.5 trillion, his concern over deficits seems to have evaporated.  However, given that mandatory spending for Medicare and Social Security now account for two-thirds of the federal budget, Republican House leaders have begun suggesting they will address the larger deficit their tax bill has made worse. Perhaps that’s how they admit their tax cut for the wealthy was “irresponsible” and “absurd.”?

Medicare and Social Security are by almost universal acclaim successful government programs. It’s clear that both programs have been key in eliminating devastating poverty for senior citizens and allowing middle class senior citizens to build a retirement safety net. But there is admittedly a problem: the long term math isn’t there to sustain the programs. They will eventually go broke, possibly if not probably sooner than we all realize. Another crisis we do not have to have. Let’s deal with it as a nation.

As a country have dealt with this issue before. In 1981 President Reagan in coordination with Congress appointed a blue ribbon commission to find a long-term solution for these programs -- and they did. This bi-partisan panel, chaired by Alan Greenspan and including such legendary political figures as Senators Bob Dole and Patrick Moynihan, suggested reform that were legislated in 1983, and for over thirty years their recommendations have allowed Social Security and Medicare programs to work for our seniors and our country.

But those solutions from the past are in desperate need of updating. Whatever new adjustments are proposed and adopted will be controversial. Political rhetoric will be harsh.  Fox and CNN will run experts 24/7 talking about who is responsible and emotions will be high. But this discussion must take place, and sooner rather than later.  As far as “funny money” – that’s the Social Security “IOU’s” in the national debt that more and more fund these critical programs.  This is as much caused by demographic change as political paralysis, but it is past time to be intellectually honest about those IOU’s – these programs are too important to our people and our economy to depend on funny money .

Dr. Greenspan has recently commented that another commission, with the right membership – one interested in a solution, could solve social security in an hour.  I will push for another blue ribbon commission approach just as President Reagan did 1981.  If we do nothing now, we know what will happen – we will have repeated and recurring midnight bills to keep the checks printing with no long-term resolution. That’s no way for us to plan for our golden years.  

Social Security and Medicare have provided a way for Americans to grow old with grace and dignity.  But the demographics of our population, including the simple fact that modern science allows us to live longer, means these programs must be evaluated and “make-sense” solutions accepted.  My 90 year-old Mother depends on her Social Security and Medicare, as do so many others.  They have planned on it.  We must ensure they can count on it.