The Old "Social Security and Medicare" Trick

In a piece ironically titled "A Party Without Principles," Washington Post columnist Sebastian Mallaby performed the old "Social Security and Medicare Trick." BTP regulars know the routine well by now. The basic story is that all the projections show that the Social Security program is fundamentally sound. According to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, the program can pay every penny of benefits through the year 2046, with no changes whatsoever. The changes needed to keep the program fully funded over its 75 year projection period are no larger than the changes made in each of the decades from the fifties to the eighties.

While Social Security is projected to be sound long into the future, the government projections show costs for Medicare and Medicaid skyrocketing. This is due to the fact that they show health care costs in general skyrocketing.

Given these projections, serious people would look to the projected health care cost explosion and try to determine if there is a way that costs in the U.S. can be brought in line with costs in other wealthy countries (with longer life expectancies). But, Sebastian Mallaby instead whines about the "entitlement problem," which he applies to both Medicare and Social Security. He then complains that the Democrats are a party without principle because they won't join his crusade to restructure Social Security.

Well, I would never spent much energy defending the Democratic Party's principles (is there a political party in this country that has principles?), but refusing to gut a program that is keeping tens of millions of people out of poverty, and is financially sound long into the future, does not count as a moral failure in my book. Mr. Mallaby's column is another story.

--Dean Baker

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