Republicans Flirt With a Very Risky Issue: Cutting Social Security
Author: Greg Valliere
January 25, 2023
BUT THIS COULD BACKFIRE ON REPUBLICANS: The public wants incremental changes, or none at all — there’s no public call for cutting Social Security benefits. Gaining power is a powerful aphrodisiac, it has emboldened House Republicans, but that risks a blow-back from voters.
AS WE WROTE YESTERDAY, spending for Social Security (23% of the federal budget) and Medicare (14%) now dominates the budget. To their credit, most Republicans understand that the growth of these entitlement programs has to slow. So they are now considering reforms, the Washington Post reports this morning.
ADVOCATING SOCIAL SECURITY CHANGES could backfire spectacularly on the GOP. giving Joe Biden and congressional Democrats an issue — cutting Social Security. Even a very modest proposal a decade ago by Paul Ryan — reducing the CPI calculation in the annual cost of living adjustment — blew up on the GOP.
EVEN DEEPER REFORMS, such as raising the retirement age, curbing some benefits and hiking payroll taxes, almost certainly would fail (see: Emmanuel Macron). The politics of this is simple — in 2022, an average of 66 million seniors received a Social Security check each month; more than 59 million people are enrolled in a Medicare plan. And these folks vote.
YET THE REPUBLICANS ARE FORMING COMMITTEES to examine entitlement cuts. “Everyone has to look at everything,” said Rep. Kevin Hern (R-Okla.), the leader of the House Republican Study Committee.
MANY MODERATE REPUBLICANS ARE INCREDULOUS that the party would give such a gift to the Democrats. Former President Donald Trump warned last week about “cutting even a single penny” from Social Security or Medicare. Trump never cared about deficits; he favored more, not less, entitlement benefits.
STILL ANOTHER RISKY GAMBIT is the Republican flirtation with a VAT tax, which analysts believe would benefit wealthy taxpayers and disproportionally hurt middle and lower class taxpayers. A consumption tax will get an airing in coming months, giving Democrats another juicy target.
BOTTOM LINE: Joe Biden finally caught a break — Mike Pence also had top-secret documents, weakening the Republicans’ hand on this issue. And Biden can bash away at the GOP’s consideration of Social Security cuts, which will not pass (neither will a VAT tax).
THE KEY AS THIS EPIC BUDGET FIGHT HEATS UP will be which party can win the public relations battle? Everyone seemingly wants spending restraint — but if this fight comes down to Social Security cuts, the Republicans will lose.
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