A funny thing happened while Washington debated how Medicare benefits must be cut to reduce long-term projected spending. Three years of extremely slow growth naturally reduced projected Medicare spending by a substantial amount. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, projected Medicare spending is now roughly half a trillion lower than it was when the deficit mania first started a few years ago. From Paul N. Van de Water:

Here’s some good news on the fiscal front: projected Medicare spending over the 2011-2020 period has fallen by more than $500 billion since late 2010 — based on a comparison of the latest Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projections with those of August 2010.

That’s important to remember because it was in late 2010 — and based on CBO’s August 2010 projections — when Fiscal Commission co-chairs Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson issued their original budget proposal, calling for slightly more than $300 billion in Medicare spending cuts through 2020. The original Bowles-Simpson proposal is often considered an appropriate starting point in evaluating whether other deficit-reduction proposals should be viewed as responsible approaches to the deficit problem.

We don’t know if this slowdown is a short-term or a long-term trend but if it continues the reduction in projected Medicare spending could eventually significantly improve.

I think how the so-called “deficit hawks” have responded to this news is remarkably telling when it comes to finding out what this debate is really about.

Instead of reducing the goals for deficit reduction, the goals have either remained the same or been increased. Instead of re-examining the need to cut Medicare benefits given that Medicare spending has slowed dramatically, Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles actually called for even bigger Medicare cuts than they did before.

The fact that deficit proposals never seem to change in response to changing realities shows that the real goal has always been to cut benefits. Deficit reduction is just an excuse to cut benefits that will be used regardless if it is justified or not.