The Corner

Economy & Business

Yes, Entitlements Are a Far Bigger Debt-Driver Than the Recent Tax Cuts Are

From over at Vox:

Republicans have removed all doubt: When it comes to the federal deficit, the problem is Medicare and Social Security — not their own tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy.

Good heavens, what could have led them to say such an outrageous thing?

Actually, it’s just the truth. We didn’t need Republicans to remove all doubt about it.

To be clear, last year’s tax bill will increase the deficit, and I was lukewarm on it for exactly that reason. But the heart of the problem really is the entitlement system. Brian Riedl of the Manhattan Institute spelled out the comparison, using hard numbers, in an NRO piece earlier this year.

A few stats borrowed from that piece:

  • Assuming they’re extended, and factoring in interest costs and economic growth, the tax cuts will cost perhaps $2.7 trillion over a decade.
  • Spending increases under Trump could widen the deficit by nearly $2 trillion over a decade.
  • And yet the national debt is going to rise $16 trillion over those ten years. “The remaining $11.5 trillion is dominated by Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.”
  • Annual Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid spending is going to grow from $2 trillion to $3.7 trillion in that time frame.
  • Social Security and Medicare face a cash deficit of $82 trillion over the next three decades.

Is it smart to reduce revenue when you’re facing shortfalls like these? Perhaps not. But the revenue reduction itself is not the big issue here.

On a side note, Riedl has a new plan for controlling the debt that includes entitlement reform and tax hikes, and I wrote about it over on the home page yesterday.

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