by Congressman John Shimkus
Oct. 17, 2013 – In the wake of my vote to end the government shutdown/debt ceiling debate, I want to share my thoughts on our nation’s fiscal situation as we move forward.
Bigger than our fight over Obamacare is our coming showdown over our nation’s fiscal situation. Some will argue that we lost the debate, but I contend that the fiscal debate continues.
Roughly two-thirds of our budget is mandatory spending and interest payments, while roughly one-third is the discretionary budget. Without reform, the mandatory programs continue to grow and will squeeze the discretionary part of the budget.
Remember that the discretionary budget is the everyday activities of the national government: the Departments of Agriculture, Veterans Affairs, Education, etc.
At $1 trillion in 1982, we are going to reach $17 trillion in total debt this year. The drivers of both our annual deficits and total debt are our mandatory programs of Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare.
Let’s first address Social Security. I carry a letter with me from a constituent sent to her by the Social Security Administration. It says, “Without changes, in 2037 the Social Security Trust Fund will be able to pay only about 78 cents for each dollar of scheduled benefits.” Simply put, there will be more obligations than revenue…so benefits will be cut. This is unacceptable and needs to be fixed.
Medicaid is our state-federal partnership to provide healthcare and long-term care to the poor. The state sets the criteria, and for Illinois the federal government pays 50 percent of the cost. As generous as the state wants to be, the federal government will pay 50 percent. Currently there is no ability for the federal government to control what this total expense is.
The remaining mandatory spending program is Medicare, and it is the one that is in the biggest challenge. Remember Medicare is our health care program for seniors. The Medicare trust fund goes insolvent in 2017, much earlier than Social Security, when obligations outstrip revenue. This is only four short years from now. Decisions will have to be made whether to raise taxes, restrict benefits, or cut payments to providers. If payments are cut, it is likely that doctors may then stop seeing Medicare patients, as many already do not see Medicaid patients.
I voted to reopen government and extend the debt ceiling in the hope that the Budget Conference, which is also part of the agreement, will really be able to address these major mandatory spending issues. I know that House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan is able to think big in order to fix this mess. I hope the others involved also come to the table willing to negotiate.
That is our next big fight. A fight we must win for our nation’s future.