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Maddening inaction on ailing Social Security and Medicare

Timothy Geithner
Timothy Geithner
Associated Press

No, we won't be sending donations to the Campaign for Primary Accountability, the political action committee that fights the huge advantage incumbents enjoy in U.S. House and Senate races. But on Monday we gained new appreciation for anti-incumbent fever: As Democrats and Republicans in Washington perpetually trade blame for our deteriorating federal finances, Social Security has moved three years closer to emptying its trust fund. Mark that on your calendar for 2033, not the 2036 projected only a year ago.

Medicare also is on life support. The hospital-insurance program for seniors is expected to spend its last dollar in 2024. That's the same projection as the trustees who oversee these entitlement programs issued a year ago — but five years sooner than they had projected as recently as 2010. And the trustees also warned Monday that Medicare's future could be even more dire than their report suggests.

A year ago, the trustees warned that Social Security's disability insurance fund would be out of money by 2018. As of Monday, that date is 2016, four years from now.

Keep in mind the failure of Congress and the White House to recalibrate and rescue these programs the next time someone accuses a political opponent of trying to "end Medicare as we know it!" or "end Social Security as we know it!" Someone had better end these entitlements as we know them, and fast. Because as we know them, they're doomed to insolvency — unable to pay the full benefits that members of Congress and presidents have promised.

We're not sure which is more maddening, the oblivious members of Congress who refuse to reach a deal on deficits and debt, or the oblivious administration officials who reacted Monday as if the White House had just won the Mega Millions lottery. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said the numbers show that Social Security and Medicare can pay benefits "for years to come," which is like congratulating a death row inmate who has "weeks to live."

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said the trustees' report "confirms that Medicare is in a much stronger position" thanks to Obamacare. Sebelius was speaking about a Medicare program expected to flop over in 12 years, according to trustees who warn that "Medicare's actual future costs are highly uncertain and are likely to exceed those shown ... in this report."

Do you see what's happening? The folks of both parties whom we employ in Washington are not doing the elemental work their jobs entail: They are not securing the future finances of our government. They are not protecting the future solvency of programs that serve 44.8 million Americans (Social Security) and 48.7 million Americans (Medicare).

And now the frightful next plot turn in this drama: Roughly 100,000 baby boomers are flooding into each of those entitlements every month.

Yet our employees in Washington evidently cannot cope, cannot react, cannot solve. These are the same elected officials whose inactions are on schedule to confront Americans with the so-called Taxmageddon of tax increases — plus yet another hike in the federal debt ceiling — that we explained April 1.

As is, members of Congress and the president aren't expected to address Taxmageddon until after the Nov. 6 election. We wonder how many of them will be distracted by movers loading their possessions into trucks for the long ride home.