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Trump persuaded after campaigning against it?

Ryan: Yeah, we’re going to have to reform entitlements in 2018

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By —— Bio and Archives December 7, 2017

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The only reason I needed to vote for Donald Trump was: “So Hillary Clinton will never become president.”

Everything after that was gravy, including Neil Gorsuch, tax cuts, deregulation, domestic energy production, Jerusalem and so much else.

But I was disappointed in candidate Trump for his declaration that he would not touch entitlement programs. That desperately needs to happen. America cannot remain fiscally viable if if we don’t do something about the present expenditures and unfunded long-term obligations inherent in Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. There is simply not enough money in the world for us to pay out the benefits called for in the schedules associated with these programs.

They have to be reformed. The only question is whether we do it proactively or wait until we reach an existential crisis, like Greece. And the truth is proactive reform would have meant we did it 20 years ago. With every year that goes by we’re getting closer to the crisis.

So by electing Trump, did we get a basketful of good things but forestall any hope of real entitlement reform for the foreseeable future? It seemed that way at first. Obviously stopping Hillary was the most important thing, but if we don’t reform entitlements and the federal government ultimately collapses until the weight of its own fiscal imbalance, what good will we have done ourselves over the long term?

None, which is why it’s heartening news to hear House Speaker Paul Ryan say this issue is very much on the agenda for 2018:

“We’re going to have to get back next year at entitlement reform, which is how you tackle the debt and the deficit,” Ryan said during an appearance on Ross Kaminsky’s talk radio show. “... Frankly, it’s the health care entitlements that are the big drivers of our debt, so we spend more time on the health care entitlements — because that’s really where the problem lies, fiscally speaking.”

Ryan said that he believes he has begun convincing President Trump in their private conversations about the need to rein in Medicare, the federal health program that primarily insures the elderly. As a candidate, Trump vowed not to cut spending on Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid. (Ryan also suggested congressional Republicans were unlikely to try changing Social Security, because the rules of the Senate forbid changes to the program through reconciliation — the procedure the Senate can use to pass legislation with only 50 votes.)

“I think the president is understanding that choice and competition works everywhere in health care, especially in Medicare,” Ryan said. “...This has been my big thing for many, many years. I think it’s the biggest entitlement we’ve got to reform.”

Ryan’s remarks add to the growing signs that top Republicans aim to cut government spending next year. Republicans are close to passing a tax bill nonpartisan analysts say would increase the deficit by at least $1 trillion over a decade. Trump recently called on Congress to move to cut welfare spending after the tax bill, and Senate Republicans have cited the need to reduce the national deficit while growing the economy.

“You also have to bring spending under control. And not discretionary spending. That isn’t the driver of our debt. The driver of our debt is the structure of Social Security and Medicare for future beneficiaries,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said last week.

There are a lot of reasons to do this now. One is fiscal reality. Every year you don’t do it makes the inevitable harder to achieve successfully when some future Congress realizes it can’t be put off any longer. The numbers get that much worse as time advances.

Another is political reality. If we get the sort of Blue Wave election you might expect in the mid-terms with an unpopular Republican president, it could be a long time before Republicans again control both houses of Congress. And Democrats are either not going to do this at all or they’re going to make the problem worse. If entitlement reform is going to have a Republican flavor, it may never be possible again after 2018.

How to do it, of course, is the biggest and most difficult question. Entitlement spending is approaching 70 percent of the federal budget, and as it stands right now that spending is mandatory. So you can complain all you want about congressional salaries or Pentagon toilet seats, but you’re talking about small potatoes. The money is in entitlements, and if you want to make any significant reduction in federal spending, that’s where you have to do it.

There’s a lot Washington can learn from the private sector on this score, and even from government at other levels. States and local governments are figuring out they need to go to defined contribution systems, for example, rather than defined benefits so they’re not locked into obligations way down the road they can’t possibly cover. Premium support rather than direct bill-paying is also a good strategy for helping people with their health care needs without getting buried under the cost of the care itself.

Democrats will scream that entitlements are a “sacred trust” or whatever, but would you trust someone who made a “sacred” promise they couldn’t possibly keep? That’s what we’re doing with Medicare and Medicaid as presently constituted. It has to change. And if the current Congress does entitlement reform and gets destroyed for it in the mid-term elections, then at least this Republican Congress had a purpose more worthy than its own self-preservation.

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Dan Calabrese’s column is distributed by, which can be found at HermanCain

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