The political challenge of entitlement reform

James Capretta of the American Enterprise Institute explains why entitlement reform faces such a difficult path to success.

Democrats in Congress have seized on recent comments by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to accuse Republicans of planning to cut Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid if the GOP holds onto power after the midterm election. If only it were so!

Alas, what McConnell actually said is the opposite of what Democrats are claiming. He didn’t say Republicans will move forward with plans to reform entitlements if they win the election. Rather, he said they won’t pursue such an agenda on their own because they fear the political consequences of doing so.

In an interview with Bloomberg News, McConnell was clearly trying to explain to disappointed fiscal conservatives why Republicans — with control of both Congress and the White House — have done nothing to get government spending, deficits, and debt under better control. McConnell argued, correctly but incompletely, that the primary problem in the federal budget is the steady and rapid growth in spending on entitlement programs over many years. He then conceded that the GOP won’t do anything about this problem without the cooperation of some Democrats because an effort led by Republicans alone would be too politically perilous.

On these points, McConnell was speaking more bluntly perhaps than he had previously, but he wasn’t breaking new ground. He is right that entitlements are the primary reason for the nation’s fiscal challenges, and it’s been obvious for some time that reform of the major programs will proceed either on a bipartisan basis or not at all.

Mitch Kokai / Senior Political Analyst

Mitch Kokai is senior political analyst for the John Locke Foundation. He joined JLF in December 2005 as director of communications. That followed more than four years as chie...

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