As U.S. politicians prepare plans to reduce the nation’s growing budget deficits and $14 trillion debt, a major overhaul to the country’s ballooning entitlement programs must be a major factor. Without including entitlement reform to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, any attempt at reconciling our massive budget shortfalls will fail.

As the budget battle heats up in Washington, the spotlight falls on the bloated federal debt and the ever-growing deficit fueled by skyrocketing costs of government entitlements.

The showdown that is rapidly approaching will very soon dominate headlines. The Congressional Budget Office expects the $14.3 trillion federal debt limit to be reached within a couple weeks. When the limit is reached, it must be extended or the U.S. Treasury will have to stop issuing additional debt.  

Neither political party has yet summoned the courage to tell Americans that the current entitlement programs must undergo major reform – and soon. Instead, they prefer to remain silent about the 800-pound gorilla sitting in the aisle between them. They no doubt fear that the message will stir public outcry that will dwarf the recent Wisconsin protests.

Politicians also are undoubtedly aware that the cutbacks required to rein in entitlement spending pose an increasing danger to a fragile U.S. economy. Cutbacks in programs will likely result in lost jobs. While it’s not surprising they are reluctant to open the debate, it must not be put off any longer.

As the national debt piles up, much of it used to fund entitlement programs, interest payments will consume more and more of the federal budget. In 2010, the interest alone on the debt cost taxpayers around $200 billion. Without major reforms to entitlement spending, some fear the amount could quadruple by the end of the decade.

All spending reduction options must be kept on the table. While entitlements have previously been untouchable, that must change. With entitlement spending on autopilot, it is projected that their combined costs will consume all federal revenue by 2050.

Like an ‘all-you-can-eat’ buffet, politicians have handed Americans entitlement after entitlement without regard to how or when the bill would be paid. With their eyes fixed on re-election, politicians have been adept at charging the entitlement program bill to future generations – after all, they don’t vote. Until politicians adopt a vision that goes beyond the next election, the problem will fester.

Although one is tempted to blame the whole mess on our elected officials, do not forget other culpable parties that must share the blame. That would be us- the American people who are happy to receive whatever entitlement that is handed out.

Now is the time for leaders to step forward and tell Americans what we can afford and that there will be pain ahead. The longer the message and the needed reforms are delayed, the worse the pain will be.

Until entitlement programs are brought under control and a balanced budget is within our grasp, the country’s future grows increasingly uncertain. While it will not be an easy adjustment, the alternative will be certain bankruptcy of our nation.