As has been continually reported, albeit not comprehended, the biggest problem with the US Federal budget is that even if it was decided that all discretionary, non-security spending be eliminated, the budget could not be balanced. This is important because the current debate in the US Congress about whether to cut spending by $61 billion, as advocated by the Republicans, or by $10 billion is almost meaningless. The real debate needs to center around the proverbial third rail of US politics, namely entitlement reform.
What I don’t understand, is why is this subject so taboo? As others have pointed out, the two major entitlement programs, Social Security and Medicare were established when life expectancy for men and women in the US was much lower than it is now. Men now live approximately eight years longer and women approximately six years longer than was the case in 1965 when Medicare was created. The difference is more pronounced since 1935 when Social Security was created, with men living approximately 15 years longer and women 16 years. It is clear that circumstances have changed since those laws were passed.
Measures have been taken on Social Security. The age at which a qualified person can receive full benefits has increased in steps up to 67 for those us who were born after 1960. This is reasonable but insufficient. When Social Security was established, people on average didn’t reach 65. Now will all live with the dream of ten to fifteen years of retirement. I don’t want to have to work past (or even up to) 67, but I assume that I won’t be able to draw full Social Security benefits until I pass 67. For younger people, retirement is so far away and so much less interesting than their current lives, I can’t imagine that many of them will balk at the age of full Social Security benefits being pushed back from 67. After all, you can still retire at any age; this just affects getting Social Security benefits.
With Medicare, the eligibility age is still pegged at 65. I’m not sure what sense this makes. Why can’t Medicare eligibility be pushed back as Social Security eligibility has? I’m not advocating changing benefits for those who are already receiving benefits or even for those who are close to receiving benefits (60 years old +). But what about people in my age group, people who are still more than twenty years away from qualifying for Medicare. Tacking on a few years isn’t really going to affect me much at this point.
Part of the solution with both of these programs is changing the eligibility age. Why can’t this be done? Who is going to object to this? Both parties are waiting to make a proposal on entitlement reform, no doubt waiting for the other party to go first so that they can criticize. (It’s always easier to destroy than create.) But what exactly is at risk? Normally, a logical point of view on an issue like this is unattractive to conservatives, but this is an idea that they conceptually support. (Republicans with nothing at stake in this like Governor Christie of New Jersey have already weighed in on this.) As this could lead to a real solution in the structural problems with the federal budget, why isn’t anyone taking the lead?
I’m sure someone could tell me what I’m missing. I’m just puzzled and wondering; what don’t I understand?