Left out of President Obama’s State of the Union address Tuesday night was any mention of shoring up Social Security or Medicaid — two of the three entitlement programs that will drive the growth of federal debt over the coming decades.
Mr. Obama never mentioned Medicaid at all and mentioned Social Security just briefly during his speech, and that was to announce that he would oppose efforts to trim it in order to pay for job training and education spending.
“That idea is even worse,” Mr. Obama said. “We can’t ask senior citizens and working families to shoulder the entire burden of deficit reduction while asking nothing more from the wealthiest and most powerful.”
Mr. Obama said he is prepared to reduce projected growth of Medicare to the level suggested by his deficit commission, led by Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles, who recommended $300 billion to $400 billion in savings over a decade.
Social Security already pays out more each year than in takes in from payroll taxes. Over the next decade, it will pay out $1.3 trillion more than it collects from taxes, according to numbers released this week by the Congressional Budget Office.
Even worse, the two trust funds that make up the program will begin to be drawn down in 2017. One of the trust funds, the Disability Insurance program, is already paying out money.
Medicare’s trust funds also post a deficit every year of CBO’s projections.
Mr. Obama has been warned by liberal lobby groups not to touch Social Security.
The Progressive Change Campaign Committee said it would “prepare for war if the president embraces cuts to Social Security benefits.”
“Reducing cost of living adjustments is not a minor tweak — it is a major benefit cut that would hurt millions of grandparents and veterans by taking thousands of dollars out of their tiny budgets,” said Adam Green, co-founder of the organization. “Cutting Social Security benefits would also be political suicide for Democrats in 2014.”
Congress and Mr. Obama have agreed to deep cuts in discretionary spending and this year reached a deal to increase taxes across the board — including the payroll tax that funds Social Security.
But the biggest driver of debt — the entitlement programs — have not been touched.
Hours before Mr. Obama spoke, Undersecretary of Defense Ashton B. Carter testified to the Senate that defense cuts would devastate the Pentagon’s ability to secure the nation, and he called for tax increases and entitlement cuts to halt the defense “sequesters” looming on March 1.
In the official Republican Party response, Sen. Marco Rubio specifically called for Mr. Obama to tackle Social Security and Medicare, saying the choice is not between education and entitlements, but between shoring up the programs now or having them gutted later.
“Mr. President, I don’t oppose your plans because I want to protect the rich. I oppose your plans because I want to protect my neighbors,” Mr. Rubio said.
But, like Mr. Obama, Mr. Rubio didn’t lay out specific plans to save Social Security.
Instead, he said Republicans have “offered a detailed and credible plan that helps save Medicare without hurting today’s retirees. Instead of playing politics with Medicare, when is the president going to offer his plan to save it? Tonight would have been a good time for him to do it.”