Medicare is headed for bankruptcy faster than expected. The program's trustees released their annual report Friday which concluded that the government old-age health insurance program will go bankrupt in 2024 -- last year's report had predicted it could last until 2029.
Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner said that the report showed "the need to act sooner rather than later to make reforms to our entitlement programs." This is empty rhetoric. The Obama administration has not proposed a single, real legislative initiative to reform the Medicare system.
Instead of getting serious, the Democrats are falling back on political scare tactics. Republican freshmen came to Washington in the landslide election to change the culture, but they are now being smeared in a coordinated attack. A group of 42 GOP freshmen pleaded with President Obama on Tuesday to change the tone. "We ask that you stand above partisanship, condemn the disingenuous attacks and work with this Congress to reform spending on entitlement programs," they wrote in a letter.
Apparently Mr. Obama did not forward the missive to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. At a press conference on Thursday, the Democratic leader stood next to a poster with the roll call vote on the GOP budget for 2012. She pointed to the minuscule font listing of names, and said, "And here it is: 100 percent of the 'yes' votes to abolish Medicare were cast by the Republicans, every Democrat voted 'no.'"
Mrs. Pelosi referred to the GOP plan as a vote "end Medicare as we know it" and "to undermine one of the pillars of security for America's seniors." The plan crafted by House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, Wisconsin Republican, would shore up the system so that it doesn't bankrupt the country.
Wearing a tan pantsuit, Mrs. Pelosi foreshadowed the Democratic 2012 election strategy of terrifying the elderly to pull off election wins and block the Republican reform effort. "This is a vote tabulation that you will see over and over again," she said. "You will see it in its present form, and you will see it individually."
Mr. Ryan's plan is the first serious attempt to reform Medicare in order to keep it solvent and to slow the runaway costs contributing to the federal debt crisis. The idea is to shift Medicare from a government-run health care plan to a "premium support system" through which the government subsidizes private insurance policies. Taking the government out of direct payments for health care bills would slow the drastic upward trajectory in government spending on Medicare.
From the day he announced the plan, Mr. Ryan made clear that it would not affect anyone over the age of 55 (going into effect in 2022). That means there's absolutely nothing for seniors to worry about, despite the Democratic demagoguery. Nonetheless, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid blocked the House-backed reform package.
Neither the president nor the congressional Democrats has offered any alternative plan to save Medicare. President Obama gave a speech about reforming entitlements -- his mulligan budget -- but never followed through with legislation.
Mrs. Pelosi closed her press conference by holding her right hand up in the air and saying, "Medicare, that's our fight." She then hustled out of the TV studio so that House Speaker John A. Boehner could speak to the reporters.
Mr. Boehner responded to Mrs. Pelosi's political games on Medicare by citing the urgent need for "America to get its fiscal house in order." The nation's current public debt is $14.3 trillion, and the statutory debt ceiling is expected to be hit on Monday.
"It's time to make real changes to preserve these entitlement programs that are very important," said the Ohio Republican, sporting a coral-colored tie. "But having said that, we know they're unaffordable, and if we don't do anything, seniors are going to see cuts. And no one wants to see cuts in these programs. We've got to make real changes to put them on a sound fiscal foundation."
The obsession of Mrs. Pelosi and her fellow Democrats in winning elections is putting America's economic health at risk. They should be ashamed of themselves.
Emily Miller is a senior editor for the Opinion pages at The Washington Times.