Outlook report likely to quell reform notions


A report released last week on the financial outlook for the nation’s Social Security and Medicare programs showed some improvement in the Medicare area. Unfortunately, that will add fuel to Washington’s unofficial motto when it comes programs that are popular with voters: Never fix today what you can put off until another term of office.

The closest spending crisis in the programs is three years away. That’s when the Social Security fund that pays for disability benefits is expected to be depleted. The Social Security fund for retirees should be good at least until 2033, trustees of the program said Friday.

Meanwhile, a slower than anticipated growth in health care costs means the Medicare fund has gained a couple of extra years of life. Trustees of that program now expect it to be able to meet obligations through 2026, beating last year’s estimate of 2024.

These are touchy programs with Americans. Politicians know that meddling with the formulas and implementing reforms to keep them solvent will instantly place them in political peril. When one wonders why Congress and the White House put off dealing with sensitive issues, the reason is simple — political self preservation.

But these programs will have to be addressed if the nation ever hopes to get its financial house in order. While elected officials push this plan and that, the fact is that Medicare and Social Security are the two largest expenditures of the federal government, comprising one-third of all U.S. government spending.

With the Baby Boomer generation on the cusp of retirement, it’s very likely that America has a disaster waiting to happen if things remain as they are now. Also, the trustees’ prediction that moved the Medicare depletion from 2024 to 2026 was based at least in part on assumptions in connection with the Affordable Care Act. We have a suspicion that when that law is fully implemented, there very well may be some unexpected costs that come to light.

The problem, of course, is that working together for the common good is anything but a motto in the nation’s capital. And that’s not going to change as the 2014 mid-term and 2016 presidential elections inch closer.

Democrats have one view on how things should be handled, Republicans have another and the Obama administration is losing credibility for its leadership as seemingly every day another political scandal breaks out. Not quite a recipe for good government, is it?

Any glimmer of hope that the fiscal problems facing these two major programs isn’t as bad as it was yesterday is reason enough for lawmakers worried more about their own jobs and the power of their respective political parties to avoid doing anything that will give their opponents an advantage.

We can expect to hear a lot about the need for reform. We can expect to hear a lot about why the other side’s solutions won’t work.

What we shouldn’t expect is any meaningful action. At least not anytime soon.

— The Albany Herald Editorial Board