ICYMI: Washington Post: House GOP Eyes Social Security, Medicare Amid Spending Battle
January 24, 2023
Key Point: “In recent days, a group of GOP lawmakers has called for the creation of special panels that might recommend changes to Social Security and Medicare, which face genuine solvency issues that could result in benefit cuts within the next decade. Others in the party have resurfaced more detailed plans to cut costs, including by raising the Social Security retirement age to 70, targeting younger Americans who have yet to obtain federal benefits.”
Washington Post: House GOP eyes Social Security, Medicare amid spending battle
By Tony Romm
- House Republicans have started to weigh a series of legislative proposals targeting Social Security, Medicare and other entitlement programs, part of a broader campaign to slash federal spending that could force the new majority to grapple with some of the most difficult and delicate issues in American politics.
- Only weeks after taking control of the chamber, GOP lawmakers under new Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) have rallied around firm pledges for austerity, insisting their efforts can improve the nation’s fiscal health.
- They have signaled they are willing to leverage the fight over the debt ceiling — and the threat of a fiscal doomsday — to seek major policy concessions from the Biden administration.
- So far, the party has focused its attention on slimming down federal health care, education, science and labor programs, perhaps by billions of dollars. But some Republicans also have pitched a deeper examination of entitlements, which account for much of the government’s annual spending — and reflect some of the greatest looming fiscal challenges facing the United States.
- In recent days, a group of GOP lawmakers has called for the creation of special panels that might recommend changes to Social Security and Medicare, which face genuine solvency issues that could result in benefit cuts within the next decade.
- Others in the party have resurfaced more detailed plans to cut costs, including by raising the Social Security retirement age to 70, targeting younger Americans who have yet to obtain federal benefits.
- “We have no choice but to make hard decisions,” said Rep. Kevin Hern (R-Okla.), the leader of the Republican Study Committee, a bloc of more than 160 conservative lawmakers that endorsed raising the retirement age and other changes last year. “Everybody has to look at everything.”
- Democrats, meanwhile, have been unsparing in their criticisms, saying millions of Americans could see their benefits cut at the hands of the new House GOP majority. President Biden has stressed he will not negotiate such a deal with Republicans, as he prepares to discuss a raft of fiscal issues with McCarthy in the coming days.
- “This is something that should be done without conditions, and we should not be taking hostage key programs that the American people really earned and care about — Social Security, Medicare, it should not be put in a hostage situation,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters Monday.
- In a time of immense, growing debt, the party’s looming decisions could carry vast consequences: Every cut in Washington, large or small, threatens to spell dramatic changes for millions of Americans’ finances — not to mention the GOP’s own political fortunes.
- So far, the cuts that Republicans have considered represent only a fraction of the government’s ledger, which also includes mandatory spending — the category that encompasses Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps and a wide array of other federal payments that totaled more than $4.8 trillion in outlays over the 2021 fiscal year, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO)
- The looming deadlines have emboldened some Republicans in Washington to take a look at the two programs, which are considered to be the third rail of American politics. GOP lawmakers have been counseled by a wide array of right-leaning groups, including the Heritage Foundation, that the new majority should consider significant changes to entitlements as part of their commitment to cutting spending and balancing the budget — but not tax increases.
- In an early sign of their interest, House GOP leaders initially included “mandatory spending” as a legislative priority during a meeting with rank-and-file lawmakers earlier this month. But Republicans did not mention explicitly what they hoped to address with Social Security and Medicare.
- In a sweeping road map unveiled last year, the Republican Study Committee — the largest GOP group in the House — called for significant revisions to Social Security and Medicare. Their plan would raise Medicare eligibility to age 67, while allowing for more private-sector plans, while lifting Social Security to age 70 for younger workers and changing the way benefits are calculated. That proposal also raised the possibility that lawmakers could rethink payroll taxes, allowing the money to fund private-sector retirement options.
- Republicans proposed privatizing key elements of the Social Security system under then-President George W. Bush after the 2004 election, only to encounter an onslaught of opposition that scuttled the White House campaign. Eighteen years later, Biden and his top aides lambasted GOP lawmakers in the 2022 race for trying to “deny seniors’ benefits they have already paid into.” The president saved some of his most forceful comments for proposals put forward by Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), who sought to require Congress to reauthorize Social Security and Medicare every five years.
- Still, some Republican lawmakers have signaled renewed interest in those plans. Earlier this month, Scott promised to seek entitlement reforms in the context of the debt limit, promising at the time that a “day of reckoning is coming.” Hern, the leader of the RSC, said in a separate interview that lawmakers should at least be able to discuss bipartisan legislation to change the retirement age for a “child who has not paid a single dollar in payroll taxes.”