Protecting, Strengthening Entitlements Is Crucial to Fixing Fiscal Cliff

Statement

By:  Mitch McConnell
Date: Nov. 28, 2012
Location: Washington, DC

U.S. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell made the following remarks on the Senate floor today regarding the need for the President to present a serious plan that protects and strengthens entitlements to prevent our nation from going over the fiscal cliff:

"Over the past few weeks, Americans have started to really focus in on the debate we're having here in Washington about how the two parties can work together to prevent a short-term economic crisis in January and an even bigger budgetary crisis later on.

"So it may have come as a surprise to many to see that with just a few weeks to go before a hard deadline on solving the short-term issue, President Obama has decided to hit the road this week to drum up support for his own favored approach.

"It's hard to believe, really. I mean, every week he spends campaigning for his ideas is a week that we're not solving the problem. It's totally counterproductive. The election is over. We've got a hard deadline here, and he's still out on the campaign trail. This is a problem. If the President really wants to reach an agreement, he needs to be talking with the members of his own party, here in Washington, trying to broker an agreement, not out there firing up crowds and giving speeches.

"He's the only one who can do it, the only one who can bring folks together to broker a consensus solution that can pass a Democrat-controlled Senate and a Republican-led House.

"This has been my message for weeks. I reiterated it on Monday. I repeat it today.

"There are some other important points to keep in mind too.

"Yesterday, I came to the floor to remind folks we didn't get here by accident. The only reason we're even facing these twin crises right now is because Democrats have spent taxpayer money with total abandon over the past four years, and done nothing to address the main drivers of the debt.

"Democrats like to say we can't simply cut our way to prosperity. Well, leaving aside for a moment the fact that no one's actually proposing we do that, we can't spend our way to prosperity either. That's exactly what Democrats have been trying to do for four years, and it hasn't worked.

"This isn't complicated. We're not in this mess because Washington taxes too little, we're in this mess because Washington spends too much. The American people know that. And we're not going to get out of it until Democrats get serious about real spending cuts and meaningful entitlement reform.

"So this morning, I'd like to speak in a little more detail about why it is that we need to strengthen and protect these entitlement programs through reforms that match them up with our nation's changing demographics.

"Democrats like to pretend as though they're the great protectors of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. They make solemn pledges all the time about how they won't even entertain a discussion about reform. What they don't say is that ignoring these programs is the surest way to guarantee their collapse.

"All we're calling for is an honest conversation. We all know these programs are in trouble. Let's figure out a solution.

"When it comes to entitlements, Republicans are guided by a simple principle: we don't want Americans to age into a system that no longer exists. We want to protect them, and protect peoples' investment in them. But we can't do it alone. Reform is something that can only be done by both parties together. That's the reality. And there's been a scandalous lack of leadership on this issue for years among Democrat leaders in Washington. Because they think it's a winner politically.

"What I'm saying is that the Democrats just won an election. Turn off the campaign and recognize the opportunity that divided government presents to actually do something to strengthen these programs and protect them for future generations. That's all Republicans are asking for. Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security are critical to the economic and health care security of millions of older, lower income, and disabled Americans.

"We want to make sure they remain viable not only for today's seniors, but for their children and grandchildren, and that they don't consume so large a share of federal spending that we don't have money to pay for other necessities. And here are the facts: longer life spans and federal spending patterns threaten the viability of all these programs, as well as the economic well-being of our country and our children.

"Think about it: the number of Americans over the age of 65 will increase from 40 million in 2010 to 54 million at the end of this decade, and then 72 million a decade after that. Americans are living longer, more productive lives. It's great, and a testament to modern health care. But it creates obvious challenges we need to prepare for. We can't just let seniors age into programs that are no longer able to pay out promised benefits. It's not right. Yet already, Medicare and Social Security are both paying out more in benefits than they take in from taxes.

"The problem is particularly urgent in Medicare, which paid out nearly $30 billion more than it took in last year, and which is on the road to bankruptcy in about 10 years' time. This isn't alarmism. It's math.

"And the studies that illustrate the gravity of the problem come from members of the President's own cabinet, who serve as his Medicare trustees. In discussing the Medicare Part A Trust Fund, for instance, the Medicare trustees report that expenditures for this program have exceeded income every year since 2008, and projected expenditures continue to do so every year until the fund becomes exhausted in 2024. Which isn't that far away.

"So what do the President's own trustees think we should do about all this? This is from their report: "The financial projections in this report,' they write, "indicate a need for additional steps to address Medicare's remaining financial challenges. Consideration of further reforms should occur in the near future.'

"Again, these are the President's own trustees. They're the ones saying we need to do something about the problem, not just me. Yet Democrats are telling those on the hard-Left not to worry about it. They won't do anything to reform and protect these programs. And for some reason these groups all applaud. As if this is some kind of an achievement, allowing entitlements to crumble. That's the kind of leadership vacuum we've had on this issue from Democrats in Washington for years.

"Here's a concrete example of what I mean.

"The Medicare Modernization Act requires the Medicare trustees to send a "funding warning letter' whenever Medicare begins to rely on the Treasury for more than 45 percent of its financing. The law then requires the President to submit a plan to Congress on how he plans to address the shortfall. The trustees issued their first such warning in 2007, and they've continued to issue one every year since. President Bush submitted his plan. This President has ignored the warnings every year he's been in office.

"Here's another example:

"In 2010, the director of the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office warned that "the single greatest threat to budget stability [of the federal government] is the growth of federal spending on health care.' Yet how did President Obama and his allies respond to these warnings about overspending on health care? They increased federal spending on health care by $580 billion. That was their solution.

"As for Social Security, the only thing we hear from Democrats is that they don't want to talk about it. Don't want to talk about it? Why in the world wouldn't they want to talk about the fact that this vital program started spending out more than it took in in 2010 for the first time in nearly thirty years, and that its trustees now estimate that it will keep spending more than it takes in for 75 years, unless we strengthen it.

"But again, it's not just a question of when these programs go broke. It's also about the strain they continue to put on the rest of the federal budget on their way to going broke.

"Look: I understand that when it comes to government spending, those on the hard-Left have no limiting principle. They don't think about this stuff. They think every dollar secured is sacrosanct forever and ever amen. But when you're in charge, when you're the steward of the nation's finances, you don't have that luxury. You're responsible.

"These are just a few of the ways in which Democrats have been slowly undermining the very programs they claim to champion, making it even harder for us to reform and strengthen them in the future.

"The good news is these challenges are neither unprecedented nor insurmountable. We've done it before. When a President of one party has decided to sit down with the Leaders of the other party in Congress, we've faced up to challenges like these and made the tough choices necessary to resolve them.

"In 1983, President Reagan worked with Tip O'Neill to reach an agreement that increased the retirement age and laid the groundwork for preserving Social Security for decades to come.

"In 1997, Medicare faced total insolvency by 2001. President Clinton, working with a Republican Congress, reached an agreement that added decades to the life of the Medicare trust fund.

"We can do this. But the President, as I've said, has to lead. That's the issue here. It's that simple."