Many people know that a large portion of the federal budget is effectively out of lawmakers’ hands. Together Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and interest on the debt presently consume about 48 percent of federal spending. But if nothing changes, these programs will grow to consume 90 percent of federal spending by 2084.
This is the conclusion of Mercatus Center Senior Research Fellow Veronique de Rugy. Her analysis is based on data from the Congressional Budget Office, which makes forecasts in its Long-Term Budget and Economic Outlook. Her report is Defense and Non-Defense Spending Programs Squeezed as Autopilot Programs and Debt Interest Explode.
The key is this is a forecast if nothing changes. The spending on entitlement programs that drive this forecast are under federal legislators’ control. They can act to make changes over the long term, if they wish to.
But before last year’s elections, few politicians, even Republicans, were willing to confront the problem head-on. One of the few officeholders willing to do so is Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan, who is now chair of the House Budget Committee. His Roadmap for America’s future is a plan that recognizes the seriousness of the current situation, not only with Social Security, but in other areas of the federal budget.
His recommendations, specific as they are, cause consternation among some Republicans who would rather talk about problems in general terms rather than specifics. A recent Washington Post profile of Ryan referred to “… many Republican colleagues, who, even as they praise Ryan for his doggedness, privately consider the Roadmap a path to electoral disaster. Unlike most politicians of either party, he doesn’t speak generically about reducing spending, but he does acknowledge the very real cuts in popular programs that will be required to bring down the debt.”
Many of the new members of Congress are eager to take on the long-term problem illustrated in de Rugy’s chart. Let’s hope they have success.