An aging population and higher health spending automatically increase budget outlays, which induce the president and Congress to curb spending on almost everything else, from defense to food stamps. Over the next decade, all the government’s projected program growth stems from Social Security and health care, including the Affordable Care Act. By 2024, everything else will represent only 7.4 percent of national income (gross domestic product), the lowest share since at least 1940, says Douglas Elmendorf, head of the Congressional Budget Office.
This is the central budget story, and it’s largely missed — or ignored — by political leaders, the media, political scientists and the public. The welfare state is taking over government. It’s strangling government’s ability to respond to other national problems and priorities, because the constituencies for welfare benefits, led by Social Security’s 57 million, are more numerous and powerful than their competitors for federal support. Politicians of both parties are loath to challenge these large, expectant and generally sympathetic groups.