Photo Credit: Mark WilsonDuring a Friday news conference, a reporter asked President Obama whether he had any responsibility for the onset of the automatic spending cuts that he has warned will be devastating for the nation. “The problem that we have is a long-term problem in terms of our health care costs and programs like Medicare,” Obama said in his response. “And what I’ve said very specifically, very detailed is that I’m prepared to take on the problem where it exists — on entitlements — and do some things that my own party really doesn’t like — if it’s part of a broader package of sensible deficit reduction.”
Obama is correct that entitlements in general and health care programs in particular are the biggest source of the nation’s long-term fiscal problems. But it’s a complete falsehood that he’s offered detailed and specific plans to do something about it.
At various times during his presidency, Obama has vowed to tackle the nation’s entitlement programs. It’s true that his health care law did cut projected Medicare spending by about $700 billion over a decade. But those projected savings, along with tax increases, were used to offset $1.7 trillion in new health care spending under Obamacare rather than go toward debt reduction. In other words, they don’t fix any of the program’s structural fiscal problems.
Since Republicans took over Congress in 2011, Obama has consistently said he’d be willing to address entitlements if Republicans agreed to raise taxes — but he’s either spoken vaguely about this willingness or offered proposals that represent minor tweaks to the programs rather than fundamental changes that would put them on a sustainable financial trajectory. For instance, during the “fiscal cliff” debate, Obama floated the idea of changing the measure of inflation used to calculate Social Security benefits — a move that the Congressional Budget Office estimated would save $127 billion over a decade.
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