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U.S. National Debt:

From The Mailbag: Social Security And Medicare

Guest column submitted by U.S. Senator Mike Crapo

As active participants in the decisions made in Congress, Idahoans contact me with valuable input about the issues our country faces.  Realizing that many may not have the chance to contact me, I post the top five issues of concern from Idahoans and my responses on my website.  The number one issue constituents have contacted me about recently is protecting Social Security and Medicare benefits as Congress considers measures to address our nation's debt crisis.  The following is my response:

I am committed to addressing our rising debt and protecting Social Security and Medicare benefits for all current seniors.  We can do this by working to make both programs solvent to assure benefits will be available to future retirees.   

The Budget Control Act, which passed on August 2, 2011, created the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction.  This committee, unfortunately, was unable to reach agreement on a bipartisan plan to present to both chambers of Congress.  A sequester, which will reduce spending by $1.2 billion over 10 years, will trigger in 2013 if Congress does not achieve deficit reduction targets.  Medicare can only be reduced by a maximum of 2 percent and Social Security will not be affected by the sequester. 

Social Security program reforms must be done to ensure the program's continued solvency.  Social Security has not significantly contributed to our debt and should not be viewed as a means to reducing the deficit.  Social Security has been an important, successful program for over sixty-five years, providing benefits to millions of senior citizens and the disabled.  However, Social Security must remain a system on which our children and grandchildren can depend. 

In recent years, there has been widespread acknowledgement that the government must address the long-term health of the Social Security system.  A national discussion has evolved regarding the future of Social Security.  Our foremost concern in this effort is to maintain the promises to protect current recipients, while strengthening the system to guarantee benefits for future retirees.

According to the most recent report by the nonpartisan Social Security Trustees, the Social Security program will be will be exhausted in 2033, three years sooner than projected last year.  This is the largest projected deficit since 1983 and serves as a warning that meaningful reforms must be enacted now to ensure the program's continued solvency.  After 2033, income to the Trust Fund will be sufficient to pay only three-quarters of scheduled benefits.

The Medicare program faces similar difficulties.  The Medicare Trustees report the program faces an unfunded liability of nearly $25 trillion, and the program is on track to be insolvent in 2024, if action is not taken. 

Congress must enact meaningful reforms to ensure that current seniors, and future retirees, do not face the automatic benefit cuts that will be unavoidable if the programs continue on their current course.  The first place to look for savings to preserve these programs is the well-documented waste and fraud that has been found in these programs.  The longer Congress takes to enact reforms the less ability Congress will have to protect the full benefits of those seniors who will be enrolled at the time of insolvency.  According to the Social Security Administration, each year of inaction increases the bill to the next generation by more than $600 billion.  This Congress must secure Social Security and Medicare for our seniors, their children and their grandchildren.

As we begin to implement spending caps on certain areas of federal spending, I will continue to work to protect both current and future Medicare and Social Security beneficiaries. 

To view this response and other top five issues of interest, please visit my website at:

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