- The Washington Times - Monday, April 23, 2012

Cuts to Medicare and Social Security benefits likely will arrive sooner than expected. The programs’ trustees on Monday released annual reports upping the level of pessimism from last year as ever-greater deficits loom on the horizon. The crisis has worsened on President Obama’s watch because he hasn’t done anything to avert it.

Current retirees will see their Social Security benefits slashed in 2033, three years sooner than was projected in 2011. By then, taxes will cover only about three-quarters of retirement payments. Thanks in large part to Mr. Obama’s insistence on short-term payroll tax cuts, the program’s 2011 deficit of $148 billion was the second-largest single-year deterioration since 1983. If Washington doesn’t do anything to address the program’s imbalance, the trustees say it will take raising the payroll tax to 16.7 percent to cover the gap.

Medicare is in an even worse mess, with benefits set to be slashed within 12 years. While this matches last year’s prediction, it’s based on the 2 percent cut in payments to Medicare providers scheduled in the January 2013 sequester.

However, this cut is not likely to occur, as Democrats hope Republicans will be so averse to the sequester that they will just let our debt increase without deficit reduction. House Republicans are planning on substituting the first $98 billion reduction in 2013 with a package of budget trimming in mandatory programs. Without a decrease in outlays, skyrocketing Medicare costs likely will run the clock out before 2023.

Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner used the bad news to promote doubling down on the Obama administration’s liberal policies. “One of the most important things we can do right now to preserve Medicare is to implement the Affordable Care Act fully and effectively,” he said Monday. Democrats raided $500 billion from Medicare to pay for Obamacare, and now they want to take credit for cutting costs. This is just the latest example of the entitlement program shell game.

Mr. Geithner even resorted to the Obama campaign’s favorite tactic, connecting the issue to the Buffett tax. The Treasury secretary said the White House would not accept any plan that would “shift the cost of health care to seniors in order to sustain tax cuts for the most fortunate Americans.” The two are not at all related.

Mitt Romney and congressional Republicans offered plans to keep Medicare solvent. The presumptive Republican presidential nominee’s platform and the House-passed budget would each begin in 10 years to allow recipients to either stay in their current fee-for-service plan or choose from a wide variety of private-sector health care plans. They would begin means testing so that wealthier retirees pay a larger share of premiums. The eligibility age would go up slowly without affecting anyone currently at or near retirement.

Mr. Obama has failed to address the retirement problem. He would rather use the issue to scare seniors into voting against Republicans in November. Americans should see through this transparent political gambit and support those who want to make the health care program viable in the future.

Emily Miller is a senior editor for the Opinion pages at The Washington Times.