Sen. Rob Portman warned Thursday that without a major overhaul of federal health and retirement programs, the nation is facing “a slow-motion train wreck’’ that will add hundreds of billions of dollars to the federal debt.
In a speech before the American Action Forum, a center-right non-profit policy organization in Washington, Portman said that “the truth-telling needs to be told’’ about the rapidly growing mandatory programs of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
“When it comes to our nation’s finances, we are kind of witnessing a slow-motion train wreck, but we all see it coming and it has to do with one thing and that’s mandatory spending,” said Portman, who served as director of the White House Office of Management and Budget under President George W. Bush.
Medicare provides health coverage for the elderly while Medicaid covers health costs for low-income Americans. Along with Social Security, those programs gobble up more than half the annual federal budget, a trend that will continue as millions of baby boomers retire in the next few years.
Budget analysts have warned that lawmakers eventually will be forced to choose among three difficult choices – raising taxes, restraining the growth benefits for Social Security and health programs, or running huge deficits.
A number of Democrats are opposed to tough spending restraints, particularly on Social Security. At a hearing this week, Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said Social Security is a lifeline for many Americans.
Nearly half of working households do not own any retirement assets, he said. About half of American workers, or nearly 75 million people, have no employer-provided retirement plan or other opportunity to save for retirement through workplace contributions. And Social Security provides 84 percent of the retirement income of older Americans in the bottom 40 percent of the income distribution, according to Brown.
“There is a growing retirement crisis in this country,” he said, arguing that the focus should be on how to expand Social Security and other savings programs.
Portman said any solution to the “train wreck” would require bipartisan support, but he said there are too many lawmakers who are “more concerned about the next election than the next generation.’’
“We can’t let the promise we’ve made be broken,’’ he said. “We can’t do this to future generations.”
Citing a fresh Congressional Budget Office report that projects annual deficits climbing to more than $1 trillion by 2022, Portman said that “in the last nine months things have gotten worse, not better.”
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