Entitlement Reform: What Next?
Paul Ryan’s budget proposal jump-starts the conversation on Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security.


There is no way that Republicans can seriously tackle entitlement reform in this Congress. Such an effort requires presidential leadership, or at least a presidential campaign.

While House Republicans can’t bring about lasting change by themselves, however, they can start to change the debate.

Currently, only 41 percent of voters recognize that the majority of all federal spending goes to just three areas: national security, Social Security, and Medicare/Medicaid. If House Republicans accomplish nothing more than making people aware of this basic fact, they will have shown more budgetary leadership than has been shown by anyone in the political class for decades.

Additionally, few voters understand that the current system for measuring deficits and debt is a political tool created by Lyndon Johnson to hide the costs of his Great Society programs and the Vietnam War. It grossly understates the actual federal debt.

If the government used the same accounting principles it requires businesses to use, the total debt would be in the range of $76 trillion, not $15 trillion. The annual deficits would be in the range of $5 trillion, not $1.6 trillion. Those larger debt and deficit totals are the numbers we should be talking about.

In addition to leveling with the American people about where the money goes and how deep the debt really is, there is one other aspect of the debate that needs changing. And it’s not clear whether Paul Ryan or anybody else in Washington is ready to go this far.

Official Washington needs to recognize that the American people are the solution to the budget crisis and not a problem to be overcome. Voters are far more willing than their politicians to make major changes and face up to hard choices. And that applies to every aspect of the federal budget, including national security, Social Security, and Medicare/Medicaid.

— Scott Rasmussen is the author of In Search of Self-Governance and president of Rasmussen Reports.

The GOP should absolutely tackle entitlement reform — that was what so many of our team were sent to do last November, and that is what our public officials are obligated to do.

Yes, there will be political backlash — that is the culture we are up against, the culture of dependency and entitlement the Left has embraced and cultivated since the Great Society. But when we set out to take on welfare, we were told we could not do that either, and we did it with unified resolve and commitment. Now, over a decade later, we see welfare reform as the most successful government reform in our nation’s history.

We have also seen what happens when only some members of our party stand up to reform entitlements without a unified team behind them. In 2005, both Sen. Jim DeMint and I stepped forward to reform Social Security, but few in our party stood with us. The result was a unified chorus of attacks from the left, without a true organization to counter with the truth. That cannot happen again.

I applaud Paul Ryan for what he has drafted — it is the first fiscally sane document we’ve seen out of Washington in years. Yes, we start with his proposal, and we run it as our offense, because we should no longer be playing defense on the budget. Ronald Reagan once spoke of our party as the party not of pastels but of bold colors. Does anything require a recommitment to that call more than the present fiscal crisis? The lessons learned from our welfare-reform success and the Social Security–reform defeat should remain salient as we rightly stand up for fiscal sanity. Today, Paul Ryan is picking up that flag yet again.

— Rick Santorum is a former U.S. senator.