EDITORIAL: More bad news on the health of Social Security and Medicare

Back in 2012, after GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney chose Paul Ryan as his running mate, the folks at the hyperliberal Agenda Project got to work.

Within days, they had produced a campaign ad that depicted a man, who bore a striking resemblance to Mr. Ryan, pushing an elderly lady in a wheelchair. As an orchestra played “America” in the background, the man wheeled Granny, writhing and kicking, through some foliage up to the edge of a cliff — whereupon he unceremoniously dumped her off the precipice to her death.

Mr. Ryan, who was chairman of the House budget committee prior to joining the Republican ticket, became an easy target because he had emphasized the importance of reforming the nation’s fiscally challenged entitlement programs, including Social Security and Medicare.

“Mitt Romney chose a radical Medicare-hater as his running mate,” sniffed Erica Payne, president of the Agenda Project in defense of the hit piece. “Now Americans get to decide if Medicare-haters run the country.”

Fast forward six years.

On Tuesday, the trustees for Social Security and Medicare issued their annual reports. The news is bleak.

The costs of Social Security this year will exceed the payroll taxes coming in for the first time since 1982. That means the fund will have to tap its reserves to cover payouts. If current trends continue, the program will no longer be able to pay promised benefits by 2034.

Medicare is even worse off. The program’s hospital insurance fund is now on pace to be broke by 2026, three years earlier than last year’s report had predicted. Without action, Medicare will, within five years, be unable to deliver benefits at current levels.

Politics is politics, of course. And Congress today has a hard enough time reaching consensus on its most basic duties, let alone getting together on a land mine such as entitlement reform. Yet by gleefully labeling as “Granny killers” the adults who have the courage to broach this issue, Democrats and their progressive allies foster a climate of fear and intimidation that only exacerbates the problem.

In fact, no proposed fixes — from either side of the aisle — involve lowering benefits for those who are nearing retirement or are already retired.

It’s time to put aside the shameful demagoguery. Perhaps that’s too much to ask, given our toxic political climate, but absent honest debate and bipartisan compromise on structural reforms, entitlement insolvency is less than a generation away. A good place to start would be to dust off the 2012 Bowles-Simpson plan, the work of prominent congressional Democrats and Republicans that included a raft of budget and tax proposals to address the nation’s soaring debt and looming entitlement meltdown.

Granny is already fast approaching the ledge. But don’t blame Paul Ryan. Instead, point the finger at those who avert their gazes and stand idly by, hoping to earn political points by insisting all is well even as the dire fiscal consequences of doing nothing become more and more obvious.

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