Make Easy Spending Cuts, But Don’t Disregard Entitlement Reform

Emily Goff /

Treadmills for shrimp and poetry in zoos. The AARP recently decried these examples of government spending as part of a recent TV campaign against Medicare and Social Security reform proposals. AARP says that in order to balance the budget, Congress should consider cutting funding for these types of programs, instead of considering Medicare and Social Security reform.

AARP’s campaign refuses to acknowledge that current Medicare and Social Security spending is on an unsustainable path.

Getting the nation’s spending—and ultimately the debt—under control cannot be done solely by cutting funding for research on pickle technology or eliminating subsidies for the Brazilian Cotton Institute, other examples the ad mentions. Compare the $560,000 spent “to test sick shrimps’ metabolism,” $1 million on poetry in zoos to educate children, and $147 million in annual subsidies to Brazilian cotton farmers to the $26.4 trillion (2010 alternative scenario: $34.8 trillion) and $9.1 trillion in unfunded benefits promised through Medicare and Social Security, respectively. Spending on these entitlement programs is projected to rise so much that even if Congress decided to zero out all defense spending, it would still not be able to balance the budget.

In a counter video by the 60 Plus Association, Congressman Paul Ryan (R–WI) plainly states the dire situation caused by spending on these programs:

Washington has not been honest with you about Medicare…If we do nothing, Medicare spending will nearly double over the next decade, exhausting its remaining funds.

Doing nothing to reform Medicare, Social Security, and Medicaid has allowed them to expand to 43 percent of federal spending; this unsustainable growth is the main driver of the nation’s deficits. The Heritage Foundation’s plan, Saving the American Dream, offers policymakers a solution. Under Heritage’s plan, Medicare is strengthened “as safety-net insurance for all Americans” by transforming it into a premium-support program featuring consumer choice and competition. Social Security is turned into a real insurance system—one that ensures retirees against poverty while guarding against burdensome tax increases on future generations of Americans.

Yes, Congress should consider whether funding first class airline seats for federal employees is a wise use of taxpayer dollars, or whether certain program spending like job training and energy commercialization is best left to state and local governments or the private sector. But these examples should not be used to mask the imminent threat that spending on Medicare and Social Security pose to taxpayers and the reason why entitlement reform is necessary.