Perhaps the politicians thought journalists would be asleep, or that the rest of us would be so preoccupied with Christmas celebrations that we’d miss the numbers . . . but, fortunately for us, the Washington Post didn’t.
Releasing information on the Friday before a big holiday is a time-tested way to bury bad news. So when the Government Accountability Office’s fiscal 2011 financial statements for the federal government were released on the Friday before Christmas, it made sense to read them closely.
Since 1997, the United States has been a rare example of a government willing to publish financial statements using accrual accounting, which counts the cost of promises made as well as cash paid out. And the GAO’s professionalism over the years has won it a reputation for impartiality and effectiveness.
That professionalism is evident in the GAO analysis of the net present value of the Social Security and Medicare promises Washington has made to Americans. “Net present value” means the total that would have to be set aside today to pay the costs of these programs in the future. The government puts these numbers in appendices, rather than in headlines. But the costs are real.
In fiscal 2011, the cost of the promises grew from $30.9 trillion to $33.8 trillion. To put that in context, consider that the total value of companies traded on U.S. stock markets is $13.1 trillion, based on the Wilshire 5000 index, and the value of the equity in U.S. taxpayers’ homes, according to Freddie Mac, is $6.2 trillion. Said another way, there is not enough wealth in America to meet those promises.
. . .
The cost would have been a lot worse but for two assumptions that the GAO found questionable.
First, Medicare’s cost projections assume legally required decreases in reimbursement rates to doctors that Congress has ignored for years — the so-called doc fix. For these projections to be realized, Congress would have to abide by its own cost controls and allow an immediate 27 percent cut to doctors’ rates, which is very unlikely.
Second, the Medicare projections assume that the 2010 Affordable Care Act (ACA) will reduce health-care cost growth by 1.1 percent per year, despite doubts voiced by the GAO and a panel appointed by the Medicare board of trustees.
The panel and the GAO recommended including an alternate scenario in the year-end figures, in which the doc fix continues and the ACA cost reductions do not materialize. The result is a $12.4 trillion increase in the cost of the promises, to more than $46 trillion. Given Congress’s history with the doc fix, and the general paralysis in Washington, it’s hard to argue with the GAO’s lack of confidence in Congress’s ability to honor its own cost controls.
There’s more at the link. Bold print is my emphasis.
Folks, all those glowing promises that politicians – from both sides of the aisle – have made to us for years and years about how Social Security would be there for us, and Medicare/Medicaid would pay for our health care . . . they were, and are, all lies. There isn’t enough money in this country to pay for all those promises – not even for a third of them. Don’t look for the check in the mail, because it’s not coming.
If you don’t like being lied to in this way, please remember these numbers when you vote in November 2012 – and throw out any politician, from either party, who tries to continue lying to you about them!