As elected officials weighed reforms that could put the federal budget on a sustainable track, the AARP last week reiterated its opposition to even including Social Security and Medicare in the discussion. The organization’s recent explanations for what appears to be a new hard-line stance “are not encouraging,” says Concord Coalition Executive Director Robert L. Bixby.
In a new blog post, he faults recent AARP ads and statements for failing to acknowledge the magnitude of our fiscal difficulties and the role that Medicare and Social play in them. He points out that offsetting the growing costs of Social Security and Medicare over the next 25 years would require the equivalent of cuts in all non-defense discretionary spending of roughly 75 percent from current levels. Another unpalatable alternative: Raising individual income taxes by more than 50 percent.
The AARP, Bixby writes, overstates the budget savings that are possible by targeting government waste. Federal budget projections already assume a large amount of waste reduction, notably in health care.
Social Security trust fund projections, which AARP considers reassuring, are another problem area. “An ample Social Security trust fund surplus says nothing about where the Treasury will get the money to redeem the bonds,” Bixby says. Social Security is already running a cash deficit, which requires money from general revenues. Absent policy changes, this is projected to continue indefinitely.
“The issue is not whether Social Security and Medicare are good programs,” Bixby writes. “They are. The issue is whether they are sustainable over the long term in their present form. They aren’t.”