‘The Hospital Insurance Trust Fund is projected to become exhausted in 2020.”
As plain as the sun, that sentence appears on page 4 of the Congressional Budget Office’s “March 2011 Medicare Baseline,” released on March 18. Those twelve words encapsulate the gargantuan problem that undergirds today’s national yelling match over Medicare. It hardly matters whether one loves or hates Rep. Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) and his Path to Prosperity, or whether one believes Pres. Barack Obama is the reincarnation of George Washington or Karl Marx. Regardless, if America does nothing, the CBO calculates, Medicare will run dry on Sept. 30, 2020. If that fiscal year’s last day sounds distant, it isn’t. That milestone is five fewer months into the future than 9/11 is into the past.
From $239.4 billion in FY 2011, Medicare’s primary trust fund drops to $20.5 billion in FY 2019. The next year, it reaches zero. Zip. Zilch.
The sentries of stasis counsel lassitude, since the Medicare trustees recently announced that the program will not collapse until 2024. That is ominous. Last year, the trustees predicted that Medicare’s bankruptcy would occur in 2029. In just twelve months, America has lunged five years closer to that precipice.
Washington Democrats are in malignant denial about all this.
“We have a plan,” House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California told the Washington Post. “It’s called Medicare.”
“Keep your hands off my Medicare!” Rep. Paul Tonko (D., N.Y.) demanded at an April 15 Capitol Hill press conference. “Keep your hands off my Medicare!”
“Americans don’t need a voucher, they have Medicare,” Rep. Xavier Becerra (D., Calif.) also told journalists. “Americans don’t want ‘coupon care,’ we have Medicare.”
Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada handles this matter with stunning sloth. “There’s no need to have a Democratic budget in my opinion,” Reid was quoted as saying in the May 20 Los Angeles Times. “It would be foolish for us to do a budget at this stage.”
Why start now?
The then-Democratic Congress passed no budget in 2010. The Democratic Senate last adopted one on April 29, 2009, 25 months ago. While Ryan’s proposal went down to defeat in the Senate last month, it secured 40 votes — all Republican — versus 57 naysayers. Meanwhile, senators that day crushed Obama’s budget 97 to 0. Like Republicans, Democrats rejected it unanimously. Thus, Senate Democrats offer America nothing: neither Ryan’s austere budget nor Obama’s profligate one. The Democratic Senate simply refuses to fulfill its most basic constitutional obligation.
Rather than lead, Democrats frighten seniors with ghost stories so that they will spook Republicans into retreat.
Reid decries a “Republican plan to kill Medicare.” Florida representative and Democratic National Committee chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz says of Ryan’s measure, “This plan literally would be a death trap for seniors.”
The most despicable political advertisement in U.S. history was Pres. Lyndon Baines Johnson’s ad suggesting that Sen. Barry Goldwater of Arizona, the 1964 GOP nominee, would incinerate an adorable blonde girl in a thermonuclear blast. Vying for that dubious distinction, the pro-Democratic Agenda Project produced a commercial in which a Ryanesque Republican hurls a wheelchair-bound old lady off a cliff, no doubt fatally.
Democrats previously claimed that Republicans dreamed of feeding Granny dog food to economize money for Wall Street’s champagne budget. Such calumny has become inadequate. Those who demanded civility in February now accuse Republicans of plotting to murder seniors.
Rather than homicide, Ryan envisions leaving Medicare beneficiaries over age 55 untouched. Come 2022, he would give subsidies to new seniors — with the poor receiving more than the wealthy — to help them purchase coverage they like, from an array of qualified options, not just a single plan concocted by Washington politicians.
“Vote Republican, End Medicare” screams a new Democratic bumper sticker. Really? Do Pell grants “End Financial Aid” by giving college students money for tuition at some 5,400 schools? Do food stamps “End Nutrition” by helping poor Americans buy the groceries they desire, rather than enduring the daily special at the Public Option Café?
Amazing: Ryan wants to subsidize broader choices and flexibility for Medicare recipients in ten years, while Democrats have already swiped $520 billion from Medicare to finance Obamacare for millions of non-seniors, as of 2014. Yet Ryan is the villain!
Medicare’s future resembles a major hurricane racing toward America’s shores. Paul Ryan is outside, trying to shield the windows with plywood. Instead of helping — or even suggesting a better solution — the Democrats are inside, blending margaritas, grilling steaks, and debating whether to watch The Godfather, Apocalypse Now, or Titanic on the HDTV.
“That hurricane is miles away,” Harry Reid laughs. “Let’s make it a triple feature. Now, who votes for popcorn?”
— New York commentator Deroy Murdock is a nationally syndicated columnist with the Scripps Howard News Service and a media fellow with the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace at Stanford University.