this year, benefits exceeded both taxes and interest, meaning that Social Security had to dip into the principal of the Social Security Trust Fund for the first time.
.. The Social Security Trust Fund is not — and never has been — an asset that can be used to pay benefits. Instead, it is an accounting measure of how much money Social Security can draw from general revenues.
.. Social Security’s total unfunded liabilities now exceed $37 trillion, on a discounted-present-value basis over the infinite horizon... Congress also repealed the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB), an Obamacare provision that would have limited provider reimbursements... In actuality, Medicare has been running a cash-flow deficit for decades... there can be no long-term reduction in the national debt without addressing these massive entitlement programs. Social Security now costs nearly $1 trillion per year, and Medicare more than $700 billion... Those two programs alone account for some 40 percent of all federal spending.
The Meaning of Ryan’s Departure
Paul Ryan’s fate over the past several years is as good an indication as any of how far our politics have fallen.
.. Though the anti-Ryan vitriol faded after Steve Bannon’s defenestration, he continued to be viewed with suspicion by the talk-radio crowd and other arms of Trump Inc.
This was his reward for attempting to drag his party, and the country, toward a grown-up reckoning with our debt. Nearly singlehandedly, Paul Ryan had managed to put tackling entitlements on the national agenda.
.. making incremental reforms now—with no changes for current beneficiaries or those in their 50s—can prevent drastic shortfalls and extreme benefit cuts that will be necessary in just 16 years when Social Security is depleted. The outlook is even worse for Medicare and Medicaid.
But Donald Trump arrived on scene with the supposedly blinding insight that changes to entitlements are unpopular. Well, no kidding. He promised never to touch Medicare and Social Security—not even to ensure their future solvency. And so, the responsible, future-oriented Paul Ryan found himself governing with a backward-looking, whistling past the graveyard president.
.. Ryan and the party he helped to lead also lost its compass on Ryan’s own signature issue—fiscal responsibility.
.. it would have been nice if the party that fulminated about the dangers of deficits in the Obama years had found anything at all to cut—particularly when the economy is growing and unemployment is low.
.. Under Republican guidance, the federal deficit will be roughly double what it was in the final year of the Obama administration.
.. What has Trump taught? That trade wars are the way to improve the lives of the working class? They are popular, at least with Republicans.
.. 65 percent of Republicans favored Trump’s steel and aluminum tariffs.
.. We are not behaving as responsible adults. Our greatest political challenge is out of control debt. Our greatest social challenges are declining families, increasing dependency, and eroding social cohesion. The debt could have been addressed by government.
The Deficit Problem in a Chart
The most important thing to understand about the U.S. budget, Donald Trump or no, is illustrated by the nearby chart. Even with Mr. Trump’s modest increases, defense barely rises as a share of federal outlays. In 1989 when the Berlin Wall fell, defense was 26.5% of outlays. In 2019 it will be 15.6%.
Meantime, look at “payments for individuals,” which encompass such income transfers as Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and food stamps, among other things. This category was 47.7% of outlays in 1989 and has steadily climbed to reach an estimated 69.2% in 2019.
.. Net interest on the federal debt soaks up another 7.4% of outlays for 2018, and that will rise with interest rates.
Weighing the Good and the Bad in the Spending-Caps Deal
Republicans dislike “increased domestic spending” in general, but once you see the specifics, you understand why Republican leaders signed off on it: $80 billion in disaster relief funding, $6 billion toward opioid and mental health treatment, $4 billion to the Veterans Administration to rebuild and improve veterans hospitals and clinics, $2 billion toward research at the National Institutes of Health.
.. It was always a stretch to claim that Republicans had “basically repealed Obamacare” just by repealing the individual mandate. But getting rid of the individual mandate and the Medicare Independent Payment Advisory Board? Now we’re getting somewhere. The IPAB was created under Obamacare and given the duty to slow the growth of Medicare spending, but no board members were ever nominated. But as written under the law, IPAB would have enjoyed a lot of power over what Medicare was willing to pay for and how much, with little opportunity for Congress to overrule their decisions. This deal gets rid of IPAB for good.
.. An abusive person will often become a lot calmer when confronted with an authority figure they cannot abuse, such as a cop at the door. Abusive people can usually recognize the difference between the consequences of hitting a partner or spouse in public — where someone may see and confront them or call the cops — and doing so in private, and thus they keep those impulses in check in public. This is, in fact, one of the traits that can emotionally and psychologically trap the victim; the victim finds herself baffled and wondering, “he’s so nice and normal sometimes, so what am I doing that’s setting him off?”
.. Abusive people are generally pretty good at measuring what they can get away with in a given circumstance. They want to indulge their impulses right up to the point where it generates a permanent consequence. For example, if the abuser picks up a knife and begins chasing his partner around the house pledging to stab the partner, the partner is almost always going to flee and end the relationship, and/or file a restraining order.
.. restraining orders usually only work on the kind of people who don’t require restraining orders.) A man who is violently angry on the first date is not going to get a second date.
.. The creepy guy who hangs around a playground and stares at the children is going to get reported and caught pretty quickly. The creepy guy who works his way into a position of trusted authority, and who manages to seem kind, caring, and all of those other good traits around other adults, can pursue prey at will for a long time, because accusations of abuse will seem so unthinkable to other adults.
.. Many people have a hard time rectifying the two, and we should have a bit of sympathy for the friends and co-workers experiencing that cognitive dissonance upon learning of a person’s private sins.