President Donald Trump, channeling economist John Maynard Keynes, recently explained his ambivalence about the nation’s soaring debt: In the long run, I won’t be president.
The late Mr. Keynes, who remains a guidepost for many left-leaning academics, famously wrote in 1923, “In the long run, we are all dead.” Mr. Trump has apparently had a similar epiphany.
For decades, prominent Republicans have sounded the alarm about the debt and the entirely predictable explosion in costs as baby boomers continue to retire. In 2010, Social Security estimated that — absent reform — it would start paying out just 75 percent of benefits in 2037. This year, Social Security estimated it would be forced to reduce benefits in 2034. Estimates for when Medicare will go broke have fallen from 2029 to 2026 over the same time frame.
Last week, The Daily Beast reported that Trump is content to ignore these looming problems because the crisis won’t hit until he’s out of office.
“‘Yeah, but I won’t be here,’ the president bluntly said, according to a source who was in the room when Mr. Trump made this comment during discussions on the debt,” reported The Daily Beast.
From a selfish standpoint, this is the obvious approach and has been cynically employed by most elected officials for decades. Talking about the debt is the equivalent to telling someone to take their medicine. It may be necessary, but it’s more convenient to have someone else deliver the news.
Democrats have perfected this strategy. The left has greeted even minor proposals to reform Social Security and Medicare with ululating about Republicans wanting to kill people. One infamous ad from 2011 showed a Paul Ryan look-alike pushing an elderly women off a cliff.
The sad irony is that changes to Medicare and Social Security are inevitable. Political posturing can’t change the math. The money’s running out. As the late Herbert Stein, another famous economist, once put it, “If something can’t go on forever, it will stop.” The question is if the country will undertake small changes now or more dramatic changes when the crisis hits. The worst thing you can do for the long-term health of these entitlement programs and for those who depend on them is nothing.
There’s also evidence the American people are receptive to reforms.
In 2011 and 2012, House Republicans passed Speaker Ryan’s budget — the one liberals implied would kill grandma. That fall, Barack Obama won re-election with 51 percent of the vote. In the same election, Republicans maintained control of the House, winning 234 seats to 201 seats for Democrats.
Leadership requires navigating the challenges ahead, not running away from them. While Mr. Trump may prefer to shy away from this challenge, congressional Republican leaders shouldn’t. If Democrats cared more about the future of the country than demagoguery, they’d do the same.