House Speaker John Boehner said Thursday that he’s determined to offer a budget this spring that curbs Social Security and Medicare, despite the political risks, and that Republicans will try to persuade voters that sacrifices are needed.
In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Mr. Boehner said House Republicans would offer a budget for the next fiscal year that sets goals for bringing the programs’ costs under control. But he acknowledged that Americans aren’t yet ready to embrace far-reaching changes to Social Security and Medicare because they aren’t aware of the magnitude of the financial problems.
“People in Washington assume that Americans understand how big the problem is, but most Americans don’t have a clue,” Mr. Boehner said, speaking in his Capitol office. “I think it’s incumbent on us, if we are serious about dealing with the big challenges, that we go out and help Americans understand how big the problem is that faces us.”
He added, “Once they understand how big the problem is, I think people will be more receptive to what the possible solutions may be.”
Mr. Boehner also spoke forcefully in favor of raising the government’s debt limit, a move strongly opposed by many conservative House Republicans. He reiterated that the action would have to be coupled with significant spending cuts.
“I think raising the debt limit is the responsible thing to do for our country, the responsible thing for our economy,” Mr. Boehner said. “If we were to fail to increase the debt limit, we would send our economy into a tailspin.”
Even while Republicans and Democrats wrangle over cuts to the discretionary spending that is determined by Congress every year, the question of how to tackle the government’s promised Social Security and Medicare payments has loomed as a tougher challenge.
Entitlement programs such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid make up more than 60% of the budget. Annual outlays are expected to grow an average of 5.4% for Social Security and 6.8% for Medicare through the end of the decade.
Medicare’s trustees estimate its main program will have sufficient funds to fully cover expenditures through 2029. The comparable date for Social Security is 2037.
A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll this week showed less than a quarter of Americans support making significant cuts to Social Security or Medicare to tackle the government’s financial woes. But a majority supported reducing benefits for wealthier retirees and raising the Social Security retirement age.
Boehner: I Can Sell Voters on Benefit Cuts
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