An $82 trillion avalanche looms.
The American polity recently tore itself apart debating the morality of adding $1.5 trillion in tax cuts to the national debt. Yet the $82 trillion avalanche of Social Security and Medicare deficits that will come over the next three decades elicits a collective shrug. Future historians — and taxpayers — are unlikely to forgive our casual indifference to what has been called “the most predictable economic crisis in history.”
Conservatives used to prioritize long-term fiscal solvency. For years, Republican leaders from Newt Gingrich to Paul Ryan to Mitt Romney called for modernizing Social Security and Medicare before they collapse under the weight of 74 million retiring Baby Boomers. Then Donald Trump won 88 percent of Republican voters — and the presidency — while pledging that “there will be no cuts to Social Security, Medicare & Medicaid.” Six months later, a Pew poll revealed that only 15 percent of Republicans support trimming Medicare, and only 10 percent support Social Security reform. (Democratic support is 5 and 3 percent, respectively.)
In other words, the entitlement-reform generals have no army.
Today, concerns about Social Security and Medicare are dismissed as the dying voice of the out-of-touch Washington establishment. For conservative leaders, the surest path to credibility with the grassroots lies in focusing on working-class “real America” concerns such as globalism and income inequality. And nothing could be more tone-deaf than depriving struggling families of their earned Social Security and Medicare benefits because of some green-eyeshade budget-deficit paranoia.
Brian M. Riedl is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute. Previously, he worked for six years as chief economist to Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) and as staff director of the Senate Finance Subcommittee on Fiscal Responsibility and Economic Growth. Follow him on Twitter here.