The Corner

Medicare Trigger

Last week, nearly all Senate Republicans signed a letter to President Obama asking him to present a plan to Congress to reform Medicare. Conservatives should understand why we did this, and why all of us need to keep the pressure on the White House to respond.

The Medicare Trustees have made the situation clear. Medicare’s trust fund will be insolvent in 2024. Medicare’s unfunded liabilities are more than $24 trillion and growing, which means there’s a $24 trillion gap between Medicare’s future benefit costs and the future taxes and premiums it already expects to collect.

The president has submitted no plan to save Medicare as we know it, and his lack of leadership is bad enough. But by not submitting a plan, the president is also violating the law.

Federal law requires the Medicare Trustees to issue a funding warning in their annual report whenever they project that Medicare’s dedicated revenues will fall significantly short of its outlays within seven years. They have issued such a warning, known as a “Medicare Trigger,” every year since 2006.

The president, in turn, is required by law to take action whenever the trustees issue a Medicare Trigger two years in a row. The White House must submit to Congress proposed legislation to address the projected funding crisis. President Bush followed the law by submitting a plan in 2008, though Congress never voted on it.

President Obama has taken a different approach: He has ignored the law altogether. The Medicare Trustees continue to warn us every year, and yet for the past three years we have received no proposal from the Obama administration.

His voice and those of his fellow elected Democrats are missing from this debate. We have heard from bipartisan groups like Domenici-Rivlin and the president’s own debt commission. We have heard from Rep. Paul Ryan and the vast majority of Republicans who have voted for his plan.

But Republicans can’t reform Medicare alone, and we won’t negotiate against ourselves. We need the president to lead. And we need the president to follow the law.

Senator Cornyn serves on the Finance, Judiciary, Armed Services and Budget Committees. He serves as the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee’s Immigration, Refugees and Border Security subcommittee. He served previously as Texas attorney general, Texas Supreme Court justice, and Bexar County district judge.


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