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Republicans begin the new Congress determined to cut safety net programs

Even after calls for Medicare and Social Security cuts failed to produce their expected 2022 ‘red wave,’ they are still plowing ahead with calls for ‘reforms.’

By Josh Israel - January 12, 2023
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Rick Scott
U.S. Senator Rick Scott (R-FL) speaking at a press conference about proposed budget legislation, Dec. 14, 2022. (Photo by Michael Brochstein/Sipa USA)(Sipa via AP Images)

Republicans could soon push for cuts to social safety net programs, including Social Security, even though such proposals are unpopular and may have hurt them in the 2022 midterm elections.

On Tuesday, CNN reported that a slide shown at a House Republican caucus meeting detailing budget and spending priorities contained items that included “Adopt an FY24 budget resolution balancing within 10 years” and “Reforms to Budget Process and Mandatory Spending Programs.”

While some of the federal government’s annual spending is subject to the discretion of Congress, including funding of defense and many domestic programs, funding of entitlement programs such as Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security is automatic.

During the 2022 campaign, several Republican incumbents and candidates advocated for major changes to the programs, including cuts and annual funding reauthorization.

Florida Sen. Rick Scott, who was then chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, released an 11-point legislative agenda for his party last February that included a provision making all federal laws expire every five years. Asked in March why he proposed to sunset Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security in an election year, he told Fox News that doing so was the best way to “preserve those programs.”

Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson, who narrowly won reelection by a 1% margin, said in an August radio interview that every mandatory spending item should be made optional: “What we ought to be doing is we ought to turn everything into discretionary spending, so it’s all evaluated, so that we can fix problems or fix programs that are broken, that are going to be going bankrupt.”

An array of unsuccessful GOP Senate candidates, including Jim Lamon and Blake Masters in Arizona and Don Bolduc and Kevin Smith in New Hampshire, also proposed during their campaigns ending at least one of those programs through privatization or other major cuts.

The Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security programs provide health insurance and retirement income for a huge percentage of Americans, especially those who are older or poorer. Social Security provides most older Americans with the majority of their income and 90% of their monthly income for a quarter of them, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a progressive nonprofit.

Polling shows little support for curbing the programs. A June 2022 Data for Progress survey found 82% of likely voters preferred that the nation “expand Social Security benefits for all beneficiaries to address the higher cost of living,” while just 7% preferred that it “end Social Security benefits in 5 years for all beneficiaries to close the funding gap.”

Despite confident predictions of a massive November 2022 “red wave,” Republicans gained just a narrow majority in the House of Representatives in the midterm elections and actually lost a seat in the Senate.

Then-Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX) told the Wall Street Journal on Nov. 9 that warnings from President Joe Biden that Republicans wanted to cut Social Security “may have had an impact” and hurt the GOP.

A January 2023 Navigator poll found 85% of “swing” voters who voted for Democratic candidates in the 2022 midterms agreed that “Social Security and Medicare represent a promise to our seniors of a secure retirement, and we must protect these programs.” Seventy-eight percent of those who said they voted for a House Republican in 2022 concurred.

Such findings have not discouraged GOP lawmakers from pressing ahead with plans to privatize or reduce the programs.

On Nov. 29, Senate Minority Whip John Thune suggested his party should refuse to raise the debt ceiling, which allows the government to pay for the debts it already has accumulated, unless Democrats agreed to entitlement cuts. “There’s a set of solutions there that we really need to take on if we’re going to get serious about making these programs sustainable and getting this debt bomb at a manageable level before it’s too late,” the South Dakota Republican told Bloomberg News, adding that his party wants to explore raising the retirement age.

On Sunday, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham told Fox News, “Entitlement reform is a must for us to not become Greece,” referring to that country’s 2010 financial crisis.

According to HuffPost, Texas Rep. Chip Roy said on CNN the same day, “What we have been very clear about is, we’re not going to touch the benefits that are going to people relying on the benefits under Social Security and Medicare,” but left open the possibility of cuts for the millions of others who have paid money into Medicare and Social Security throughout their careers but have not yet started to receive benefits.

On Monday, Montana Rep. Ryan Zinke told Fox News Radio, “I think a 10-year balance the budget, but you’ve got to do it on both sides [of the budget]. … You just can’t get there when the discretionary is 28% of the budget.”

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.


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