- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 26, 2008

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Trustees for the government’s two biggest benefit programs warned yesterday that Social Security and Medicare are facing “enormous challenges” with the threat to latter’s solvency far more severe.

The trustees, issuing a once-a-year analysis of the government’s two biggest benefit programs, said the resources in the Social Security trust fund will be depleted by 2041. The reserves in the Medicare trust fund that pays hospital benefits were projected to be wiped out by 2019.

Both those dates were the same as in last year’s report. But the trustees warned that financial pressures will begin much sooner when the programs begin paying out more in benefits each year than they collect in payroll taxes. For Medicare, that threshhold is projected to be reached this year and for Social Security it is projected to occur in 2017.

The first year that payments will exceed income for Social Security will occur in 2017, just nine years from now, reflecting growing demands from the retirement of 78 million baby boomers. Medicare is projected to pay out more than it receives in income starting this year.

“The financial difficulties facing Social Security and Medicare pose enormous challenges,” the trustees said in their report. “The sooner these challenges are addressed, the more varied and less disruptive their solutions can be.”

Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr., one of the trustees, warned that the country was facing a fiscal train wreck unless something is done.

“Without change, rising costs will drive government spending to unprecedented levels, consume nearly all projected federal revenues and threaten America’s future prosperity,” Mr. Paulson said. “Our nation needs a bipartisan effort to strengthen both programs for future retirees.”

While the Social Security trust fund will have resources until 2041, the more critical date in terms of government revenue will occur in 2017. That is the date that Social Security will have to pay out more in benefits than it collects in payroll taxes. At present, Social Security is running large surpluses that are going to fund the rest of government.

However, in 2017, the situation will be reversed and the government will have to start filling the gap between what Social Security will be collecting in payroll taxes and what it must pay out. Technically, it will do that by redeeming the nonmarketable Treasury securities that are held in the trust fund. However, those bonds are simply government IOUs.

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