John Taylor

A History Lesson for Entitlement Reform

This week, House Republicans visited the White House and pressured President Barack Obama to reduce government spending as part of a deal to raise the debt limit. Everyone agrees that cutting spending will require difficult decisions on entitlements. And here is where presidential leadership is so essential — at least that’s the lesson from history as I have learned it from my colleagues, the historian David Kennedy and the budget expert John Cogan.

The relevant historical period here is the 1930s, and the president is Franklin D. Roosevelt. This may have been the only time in American history when the federal government was able to seriously cut entitlement spending. The cut was part of Roosevelt’s Economy Act of March 10, 1933. Note that this predates the creation of Social Security, so the only federal pension program in existence was the military pension. It amounted to 25 percent of the federal budget, according to Kennedy’s book "Freedom from Fear."

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