We've raised taxes. Eventually we'll have to close the deficit from the other side.
Nancy Pelosi, of all people, got it right Thursday morning. In an interview broadcast on National Public Radio, the liberal House Minority Leader agreed that spending cuts and entitlement reforms are necessary.
"The size of our deficit is an immorality, we should not be heaping those responsibilities onto the future," Pelosi said, sounding oddly Republican. "Finding reductions, subjecting every federal dollar spent to harsh scrutiny as to whether the taxpayer is getting full value for the dollar, is very important. And that holds true in defense as well as on the domestic side."
Pelosi, of course, could simply be spouting rhetoric. In the same interview, she called for Republicans to "take back your party" from "anti-government ideologues," praised Tuesday's last-minute budget deal for creating "more fairness in our tax code," and said the goal of entitlement reform must be to "strengthen" Medicare and Social Security, not slash them.
But give Pelosi credit for at least admitting that spending cuts are necessary. Since President Barack Obama's re-election, some on the left have argued that entitlement programs do not need major reform. That alone won't suffice; like or loathe this week's tax compromise, it does not create nearly enough revenue to fund our current spending.
The Congressional Budget Office found that the U.S. will amass roughly $4 trillion in deficit over the next decade if current spending levels remain in place. Even with a drawdown of American troops in Afghanistan, the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget estimates that the U.S. debt will remain at 79 percent of GDP through 2022.
Democrats, of course, can and should call for deep cuts in defense spending. But they must recognize the need to reform Medicare, the country's fastest growing government program. The rise in health care costs is the single largest fiscal threat the government faces. McSweeney's and The New York Times, two publications embraced by the left, have both published prescient pieces on the vast scope of the problem.
Ezekiel J. Emanuel, a professor and health care expert at the University of Pennsylvania, and the older brother of Democratic Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, starkly summed up the problem in the Times in May.
"By 2025, tax revenue will be able to pay for Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, interest on the debt and nothing else," Emanuel wrote. "The rest -- defense, medical research, highways, education, energy -- will have to be financed by deficits. Social Security's funding is predicted to run short in 2033, Medicare's trust fund in 2024."
Emanuel called for "graduated eligibility," a reform that would result in wealthier people receiving Medicare and Social Security later in life. The reform reflects the reality that the rich outlive the poor.