We often hear about the lack of bipartisan solutions in Washington. So, it was encouraging recently to see two politicians from very different political perspectives —Democratic Senator Ron Wyden and Republican Congressman Paul Ryan — come together and propose bold ideas for how to solve one of our nation’s most intractable challenges: the preservation and protection of Medicare.
Their plan would introduce some much-needed competition into the Medicare program, which would drive costs down while also ensuring seniors continued access to the Medicare program they know and like.
The Wyden-Ryan plan is not perfect — I, for one, have some concerns — but at least it is a sober step in the right direction and a genuine attempt to spark serious cross-party conversation on the topic.
So, I was extremely disappointed when —before the ink had even dried on this bipartisan proposal — the White House came out swinging against it, ominously warning that the Wyden-Ryan plan “would end Medicare as we know it for millions of seniors.” Of course the claim isn’t true; but it’s the hyper-partisan fear-mongering over this issue that has me most worried.
The challenge we face is stark and scare tactics to score political points will not solve it.
According to The Wall Street Journal, America now spends $2.1 trillion annually on programs such as Social Security and Medicare, with payments to individuals consuming fully two-thirds of the federal budget in 2010. That’s a huge increase from just 28 percent in 1965. And while our national debt is officially about $15 trillion — a staggering number — the head of the world’s largest bond fund estimates the figure is closer to $100 trillion when all government unfunded liabilities are factored in.
Social Security and Medicare are already running annual deficits and are expected to exhaust their trust funds by 2036 and 2024, respectively. Mind you, this is before the mass retirement of America’s 75 million baby boomers.
So this is where we find ourselves in 2012, with Social Security and Medicare on an inescapable demographic slide to default on their obligations, and the future of our economy and the retirements of millions of Americans in serious jeopardy. If ever there was a time to put aside partisan differences and act decisively, it is now. Despite the White House’s recent broadside against the Wyden-Ryan plan, the president has actually already acknowledged the necessity of Medicare reform, and most Democrats recognize — at least privately — the gravity of the situation.
This is not the time to engage in short-term political point scoring, or to shoot down earnest attempts to reform these programs. If we care about leaving strong programs to our children, then there is only one responsible thing we can do: we have to act today to enact structural reforms that will keep Social Security and Medicare solvent into the future.
When two very different politicians put their heads together and produce a plan, let’s encourage that bipartisanship and work to improve their proposal, instead of shooting it down by scaring seniors before the proposal is a day old. We owe that much to current and future Medicare beneficiaries.