Short of a goobers like Mike Lee (R-UT), Ron Johnson (R-WI) and multimillionaire criminal Rick Scott (R-FL), even the most reactionary members of Congress have learned to never say aloud that Social Security must be destroyed— but exactly that has been a tenet of American conservatism since long before it was enacted in 1935. As Lee confided to his wealthy conservative donors, they want to rip Social Security and Medicare up by the roots and destroy them both. They’re the two most popular government programs in history, so it’s been a little tough on Republicans— and conservative Democrats— to deal with it in a forthright manner. Advocating to weaken Social Security has come to be the “third rail of American politics.” Yesterday, Paul Krugman’s column was dedicated to the GOP’s long losing war against Medicare and Social Security.
Krugman noted that many Republicans want to eviscerate Social Security and Medicare, even if they’d rather not admit it. “To believe otherwise,” he reminded his readers, “requires both willful naïveté and amnesia about 40 years of political history. First of all, if Republicans had absolutely no desire to make major cuts to America’s main social insurance programs, why would they sunset them— and thus create the risk that they wouldn’t be renewed?”
And then there’s that historical record. Two things have been true ever since 1980. First, Republicans have tried to make deep cuts to Social Security and Medicare every time they thought there might be a political window of opportunity. Second, on each occasion they’ve done exactly what they’re doing now: claiming that Democrats are engaged in smear tactics when they describe GOP plans using exactly the same words Republicans themselves used.
So, about that history. It has been widely forgotten, but soon after taking office Ronald Reagan proposed major cuts to Social Security. But he backed down in the face of a political backlash, leading analysts at the Cato Institute to call for a “Leninist” strategy— their word— creating a coalition ready to exploit a future crisis if and when one arrived.
To that end, Cato created the Project on Social Security Privatization, calling for replacing Social Security with individual accounts— which George W. Bush tried to do in 2005. By then, however, Cato had quietly renamed its project; “privatization” polled badly, and Bush insisted that it was a “trick word” used to “scare people.”
So there’s a history here, and there’s a similar history for Medicare. Many people probably recall that Newt Gingrich shut down the federal government in 1995. I don’t know how many people realize that Gingrich’s key demand was that President Bill Clinton agree to large cuts in Medicare and Medicaid.
After Republicans gained control of the House in 2010, Paul Ryan began pushing for major cuts in spending. One key element was converting Medicare from a system that pays medical bills to a system offering people fixed sums of money to be applied to the purchase of private insurance— that is, vouchers.
But many though not all supporters of the Ryan plan insisted that calling vouchers “vouchers” was a left-wing smear.
So are people who claim that Biden was over the top unaware of this track record? Do they really not know that Republicans have spent more than four decades trying to find ways to undermine Medicare and Social Security? Are they unaware that there’s a long history of Republicans whining that Democrats are engaged in smear tactics when they describe Republican policies using exactly the same words Republicans used themselves until political consultants urged them to find euphemisms?
…[O]ne Republican who might be especially vulnerable to Democratic attacks over social insurance programs is Ron DeSantis.
Before becoming Florida’s governor, DeSantis enthusiastically endorsed Ryan’s Medicare voucher proposal and declared that allowing seniors to retire in their late 60s was “unsustainable.”
As governor, DeSantis has made headlines with culture-war attacks on education and his opposition to public-health measures. But in some ways his biggest achievement, if you might call it that, has been blocking the expansion of Medicaid in his state under the Affordable Care Act; in so doing he’s leaving hundreds of thousands of Floridians with no realistic way to get health insurance and is leaving billions in federal funds on the table.
True, Medicaid, unlike Medicare and Social Security, is means-tested. But it’s also extremely popular; DeSantis’s actions suggest that he’s an ideologue who hates social programs on principle.
So to go back to our original premise, when Biden suggests that “some Republicans” want to eviscerate key programs, he’s right; and Ron DeSantis is almost surely one of the Republicans he’s right about.
In his newsletter this morning, Judd Legum wrote that Biden's rhetoric is politically explosive, because large majorities of both parties support increasing benefits for Social Security, not cutting them. A 2022 poll found that 83% of Americans, and 84% of Republicans, support increasing Social Security benefits… [but] the facts are unassailable: the majority of Republicans in Congress are advocating for cuts in Social Security and Medicare.” So this is how, specifically, the Republican Party hopes to blackmail Biden into agreeing to cut Social Security and Medicare benefits:
The largest caucus of House Republicans is the Republican Study Committee (RSC). There are 156 members of the RSC, which is more than 70% of the entire Republican delegation. The 2023 budget proposed by the RSC, called "The Blueprint to Save America," calls for cuts to Social Security and Medicare.
Specifically, the 2023 RSC budget cuts Social Security in two ways. First, it increases the retirement age by three years. That increase is phased in, reaching the full three-year increase in 12 years. After that, the retirement age would be continuously raised to align "the normal retirement ages to the life expectancy of retirees." The retirement age increase is a benefit cut because it reduces the benefit to zero for Americans who have not reached the new retirement age. Second, the RSC budget changes the benefit formula to reduce the benefits for all workers who are 54 years and younger. It would also weaken the health of the program by allowing workers to divert payroll taxes previously devoted to Social Security into private retirement accounts.
The RSC budget would also cut Medicare benefits by increasing the retirement age, first by "aligning Medicare’s eligibility age with the normal retirement age for Social Security and then indexing this age to life expectancy." This is a benefit cut because it reduces benefits to zero to seniors who would otherwise qualify. It would also transform Medicare benefits into a means-tested voucher program, similar to the one proposed by former Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) in 2012.
Congressman Buddy Carter (R-GA), a member of the House Budget Committee, said that the "main focus" of Republicans should be "entitlements." Republicans would be prepared with a series of "eligibility reforms," which is a way of cutting benefits by declaring more people completely ineligible. Carter said that these "reforms" would allow Republicans to avoid tax increases.
Last November, Senator John Thune (R-SD), the second-ranking Republican in the Senate, told Bloomberg reporters that "Republicans want to leverage the next US debt limit increase to force cuts in projected federal spending and changes to Social Security and other entitlement programs." Specifically, Thune advocated for "an increase in the Social Security retirement age" and the creation of a task force to explore other cuts.
Fox News, which now claims Biden is lying when he says Republicans are linking entitlement cuts to the debt ceiling, reported this was the plan in October:
In June 2022, Senator Lindsay Graham (R-SC) called for raising the retirement age and reducing benefits for some Americans.
Senator Rick Scott (R-FL), who chaired the National Republican Senatorial Committee in the 2022 cycle, released a plan that would "sunset" all programs after five years, including Social Security and Medicare. This would leave the programs vulnerable to elimination or deep cuts. Fact checkers have dinged Biden for "exaggerating" the popularity of Scott's plan, which was criticized by some prominent Republicans. But the plan was also endorsed by RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel. It also received positive reviews from Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI), Senator Mike Braun (R-IN), and Senator Tommy Tuberville (R-AL).
Biden's comments about Republicans today are accurate. His real vulnerability on the issue stems from his own efforts to cut Social Security and Medicare years ago. “When I argued that we should freeze federal spending, I meant Social Security as well,” Biden said as a Senator in 1995. “I meant Medicare and Medicaid."
Biden's proposal operates as a benefit cut, since benefits are increased to account for inflation each year. “So, when those of my friends in the Democratic and Republican Party say to me, ‘How do you expect me to vote for your proposal? Does it not freeze Social Security [Cost of Living Adjustments] for one year? Are we not saying there will be no cost-of-living increases for one year?’ The answer to that is ‘Yes, that is what I am saying,’” Biden said in a Senate speech in 1984.
Biden was part of a neoliberal consensus at the time which argued that entitlement spending needed to be reduced in order to achieve a balanced budget. When he ran for president in 2020, however, Biden proposed to increase Social Security benefits, not freeze them. As president, Biden's budgets proposed substantial increases in the program. One of his signature legislative achievements, the Inflation Reduction Act, improved benefits for Medicare recipients.
So Biden has changed his position. Republicans have not.
Republicans not only have not... they can't because... of the Mayor of Crazyville. Listen-- and have a greta night: