Social Security & Medicare Trustees Reports: A Reality Check for Expansion Advocates & Tax Cutters Alike

WASHINGTON — Ben Ritz, director of the Center for Funding America’s Future at the Progressive Policy Institute (PPI), today released the following statement after the annual Social Security and Medicare Trustees reports were released:

“The annual reports from the Social Security and Medicare trustees should serve as a reality check for politicians who support costly expansions of these programs. As they have consistently done for several years, the trustees again warn that current program revenues are insufficient to sustainably finance promised benefits – an imbalance that must be addressed by policymakers before considering changes that could make the problem even worse and crowd out resources needed for other important public investments.

“Last year, Social Security spent $41 billion more on benefits than it collected in dedicated revenue. Over the next 25 years, the gap between dedicated revenue and promised benefits will grow to 1.26 percent of gross domestic product as the baby boomers move into retirement and the ratio of workers to retirees continues its decline. If nothing is done to address this growing shortfall, beneficiaries face the prospect of a sudden and permanent 21-percent benefit cut beginning in 2034 (the year in which the combined Social Security trust funds, which are credited with surpluses from previous years in which program revenue exceeded spending, are exhausted).

“The challenges facing Medicare are even more alarming. The gap between spending and dedicated program revenue ($307 billion in 2017) is projected to double as a share of the economy in the next 25 years, from 1.58 percent of GDP in 2017 to 3.16 percent of GDP in 2042. If these gaps are left unaddressed, Medicare and Social Security will consume an ever-greater share of general revenue, leaving less money available to fund critical public investments in our future – including key progressive priorities such as infrastructure, education, and scientific research.

“Policymakers could strengthen Medicare and Social Security while protecting public investments for the foreseeable future by modernizing their benefit structures and adopting modest revenue increases. Unfortunately, President Trump and Congressional Republicans made bipartisan action even less likely than it already was when they passed their egregious $2 trillion tax cut last year. Although the financial challenges facing Social Security and Medicare predate the tax bill and exceed it in size, Republicans cannot expect Democrats to make changes to programs that benefit the middle class just so the GOP can squander the savings on more tax giveaways for the wealthy.

“Nevertheless, Republican recklessness doesn’t give Democrats an excuse to ignore the very real problems facing Social Security and Medicare. Democrats have a moral obligation to not only reverse the Trump tax cuts but also to secure the future of our social insurance programs in a way that is equitable to both current beneficiaries and young workers. Elected officials in both parties should take their lead from the trustees instead of Trump by eschewing expensive tax cuts and broad-based benefit expansions, instead pursuing pragmatic reforms that ensure benefits are adequate and sustainable for all.”

Ben Ritz is available for comment.


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