Michael Tanner of the Cato Institute focuses his latest National Review Online column on presidential candidates’ decision to ignore the pressing need for Social Security and entitlement reform.

Social Security’s unfunded liabilities approach $26 trillion. That’s not because of waste or administrative glitches; it’s because of shifting demographics. We are living longer and having fewer babies. In 1950 there were 16.5 workers paying into the system for every retiree taking benefits out. Today there are just under three. By the time our children retire, there will barely be two.

The idea that we can save Social Security without making any changes to the system — without anyone getting less or paying more — is part and parcel of the budget fantasies that Republicans have been indulging this campaign season. (Democrats indulge such fantasies regardless of the season.)

The national debt is on a trajectory to increase from $19 trillion today to $29.3 trillion by 2026. According to the Government Accountability Office, improper payments — the government’s catch-all term for “waste, fraud, and abuse” — amounted to roughly $125 billion in 2014. That’s real money. And it almost certainly understates the real amount of waste. But, still, it is nowhere near enough for its elimination to balance the budget on its own.

If we are serious about cutting federal spending, we need to look at where the money really goes. …

… Just three programs, Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, currently absorb more than half of all federal spending. And, unlike defense or discretionary domestic spending, they are growing. Medicaid spending will rise by 21 percent over the next ten years, even after inflation and population growth are taken into account. Social Security will be up 30 percent. And Medicare is expected to increase by a stunning 40 percent. How can one possibly expect to reduce the debt without making some sort of reforms to these programs?