The Nation's Long -Term Fiscal Challenge

Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid Spendingas a Percent of GDP

GAO’s simulations lead to an overarching conclusion: current fiscal policy is unsustainable over the long term. Absent reform of federal retirement and health programs for the elderly--including Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid--federal budgetary flexibility will become increasingly constrained. Assuming no changes to projected benefits or revenues, spending on these entitlements will drive increasingly large, persistent, and ultimately unsustainable federal deficits and debt as the baby boom generation retires.

Other federal programs and activities also bind the future by obligating the federal government to future spending or create an expectation for spending. These “fiscal exposures” range from explicit liabilities such as environmental cleanup requirements to more implicit obligations presented by lifecycle costs of capital acquisition or disaster assistance. More accurate and transparent measurement is needed so that today’s budget decisions can take into account these potential future costs.

Ultimately, making government fit the challenges of the future will require looking at the entire range of federal activities. A fundamental review of what the federal government does and how it does it will be needed. All types of federal spending—that is, for both discretionary and entitlement programs--and tax expenditures will need to be re-examined. As we move forward, the federal government needs to start making tough choices in setting priorities and linking resources to results. GAO maintains a list of specific options for congressional consideration stemming from our audit and evaluation work that can be used in re-examining the federal base.

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