Deficit reduction? Not without entitlement reform

CNNMoney
Nov. 21, 2012

 As the fiscal cliff nears, the question remains whether policy makers will meaningfully address the biggest drivers of the national debt: Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid.

Experts say it's unlikely they will ... at least not in the next few weeks. The two sides have vastly different views on health care, with Democrats looking to avoid benefit cuts and Republicans focused on limiting the federal government's liability...

One main reason few in Washington are tackling entitlement reform is because it's tough, experts say.

Medicare and Social Security have long been the third rail of politics: No one wants to touch them since modifications often prompt angry outcries from voters, particularly the influential senior bloc.

"It is Medicare and Medicaid that are driving the spending side of the fiscal problem," said Steve Bell, economic policy director of the Bipartisan Policy Center. "The president has managed to make it a discussion about tax cuts on rich people."

Medicare, in particular, is a problem. The health insurance program for seniors is projected to eat up 3.7% of the economy in 2012 and 5.3% by 2030. By 2024, the portion of Medicare that funds hospital care will not be able to meet all its bills.