Going, going but not yet gone
Ignoring problems surrounding Social Security and Medicare won't make them go away.
The oldest story in Washington, D.C., is the fragile financial status of Social Security and Medicare.
If not subjected to significant structural changes, both programs are unsustainable in their current mode of operation. The only question is when — not if — they will collapse of their own weight.
The newest variation of that old story came this week in a new report on the status of these two vital programs indicating trouble dead ahead.
The report asserts that the Social Security trust fund will be exhausted in 2033, three years sooner than was just projected last year.
The Medicare trust fund will be depleted in 2024, the same year as was projected last year. But the report indicated that the 2024 date may be too optimistic because questionable financial forecasts were the basis of the 2024 estimate.
Trustees said "future Medicare costs could be substantially larger than" their report shows because it assumes "unprecedented improvements in health care provider productivity."
While the new numbers are certainly dispiriting, no one who has been paying attention can be surprised that the futures of Social Security and Medicare look increasingly dire.
The wave of baby boom retirees is just starting to hit, and these two programs could be swamped when geriatric boomers who were paying heavy taxes into Social Security and Medicare start sucking money out of it.
The weak economy also is contributing to the problem. With the unemployment rate hovering around 9 percent and showing few signs of falling substantially, millions of individuals in their prime working years are under or unemployed, not only not earning money to support themselves and their families, but also not paying the taxes necessary to support government services.
The question is how long the current administration will continue to ignore the need to act. It's been nearly three years since President Obama took office.
Republicans, led by U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, have made a serious proposal to address the Social Security and Medicare shortfalls, but President Obama and congressional Democrats have preferred to attack the Republican plan while offering no solutions of their own.
That's not to say that Ryan's plan is beyond criticism. It's definitely not.
But nothing will get done until the parties start working seriously together. Unfortunately, it would be naive to believe that is going to happen in the current nasty and highly partisan election year climate.
Perhaps in January, after a potentially cleansing election in November, either President Obama or his successor will propose changes that will preserve the viability of these two programs. But, as this week's report shows, both are growing increasingly weak, and therefore, harder to fix as time passes.