Maya MacGuineas: Paul Ryan’s Chance to Move Donald Trump on Entitlement Reform

Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget and head of the Campaign to Fix the Debt, wrote a commentary that appeared in the Wall Street Journal Washington Wire. It is reposted here.

I can only hope that Paul Ryan spent part of his meeting with Donald Trump encouraging him to embrace entitlement reform. Here’s why:

Mr. Trump’s position to not touch entitlement programs locks Social Security and Medicare on an unsustainable path. An adviser’s vague reference to the candidate being open to changes after years in office is not a commitment.

Social Security is projected to hit insolvency in 2034, and Medicare Hospital Insurance in 2030. Leaving the problem for the next president means that millions of Americans would face incredible uncertainty about the immediate future of a programs they rely on.

Just a few years ago, there was a broad acceptance of the need to implement reforms for these programs. But then such efforts came under attacks. As I have written previously in Think Tank, the Republican-aligned group Crossroads GPS ran ads against some of the most responsible Democrats for supporting modest reforms as part of a comprehensive plan to put these programs on a more sustainable path. If that’s the thanks those legislators got for trying to compromise, it’s going to be tough to persuade them to try again.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, to his credit, has a plan that would mostly fix Social Security, but he has simultaneously championed expanding the program. These changes would not only expand benefits for people who depend on the program but also would increase payments to everyone, no matter their income level. That includes Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, and, yes, Donald Trump.

Such an expansion would absorb resources that could be better used investing in the next generation and displaced workers, rebuilding infrastructure across the country, or reducing fiscal imbalances. Personally, I would put transferring resources to people who do not need them at the bottom of the list.

On the other side, Mr. Trump has promised not to touch Social Security or Medicare benefits. He says he would fix the programs solely through reducing waste, fraud, and abuse – a claim that the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget fact-checked and debunked. Limiting his actions to those steps would still leave everyone who depends on the programs at risk.

Paul Ryan has been the leader in Congress on the need for entitlement reform. People can disagree on his specific proposals – I think he errs too much on the side of spending cuts and doesn’t acknowledge the need for some new revenues – but his willingness to discuss the problem and put forward specific suggestions has made him stand above the crowd on the topic.

If the Republican Party chooses to follow Donald Trump, pandering on entitlement reform and ignoring the need for solutions, it will lead to bad news for the budget, the economy, and the people who depend on these programs. All are good reasons for Paul Ryan to encourage Mr. Trump not to lead their party down that path.

"My Views" are works published by members of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, but they do not necessarily reflect the views of all members of the committee.