Congress Unlikely to Fix $53 Trillion Entitlement Shortfall This Year

By Kevin Mooney | October 6, 2008 | 10:59pm EDT
On the Spot ( – While Congress and President Bush moved quickly to pass a $700 billion financial bailout last week, they have not moved swiftly to address the $53 trillion shortfall owed to the American people in entitlements such as Social Security and Medicare.
The General Accounting Office estimates that the current total owed to Americans in federal benefits, but for which there are no funds available, is $53 trillion. When asked about this funding crisis on Friday, members of Congress told that an effort to fix the problem likely would not occur before the end of this year.
“I’ve thought for a long time around here that Congress thinks it can repeal the laws of mathematics,” Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) told “We need to get an adult in the White House, and we need John McCain.
“If (Barack) Obama comes to the White House with some of these great challenges we are facing, his answer will be to socialize our system, and we will see the greatest capitalist economy in the history of the world fall. We can’t let that happen,” he said.
Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.) said that Congress will have no choice but to address entitlements in the near-future if additional strains to the U.S. financial system are to be avoided. But even with the GAO report about the $53 trillion shortfall, Dent was not certain any action will be taken this year.
“I can’t say the Congress will move, but I think we should,” he said. “Entitlement reform is an issue we are going to have to pick up. Whether or not the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee is going to be in a position to do it, remains to be seen.”
Looking ahead, there are “a lot of projected shortfalls” where Medicare is concerned, in addition to what is noted in the GAO report, Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.) told
“Medicare is one of our most important programs for Americans,” he said. “Overall, it has been very successful, and we want to preserve that program.” Holt also said he would be willing to explore the subject of how to fix the funding shortfall when Congress reconvenes.
Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) told it is difficult to predict congressional action in the current climate. However, he said he favored addressing the $53 trillion shortfall in the next session before the end of the year, at least as a starting point.
When asked about the multi-trillion-dollar problem, Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) said that the $700 billion bailout package was an offense to free market principles that could have long-term consequences.
“The minute you put this kind of money into the market, there is no guarantee you are going to get any of it back, and chances are most of it is already gone,” he said. “This destabilizes the finances of America and puts everything at risk, not just Medicare and Social Security.
“The problem is we are going into so much debt to the point where we could have a structural adjustment that leads into across-the-board cuts because we have too much debt,” Kucinich added.  
Kucinich also charged his fellow Democrats with effectively ending the New Deal.
“If the economy is in trouble, well then prime the pump of the economy – that’s classic New Deal economics,” he said. “But we buried the New Deal today. That’s something that the Republicans didn’t do. The Democrats did that today. They buried the New Deal – 75 years, rest in peace.”

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