Will they hurt their own voters?
Will they hurt their own voters?
It’s hard to imagine at this point that the GOP would try to cut social security and Medicare at this point. They would be attacking their own voters. But with deficits exploding under Trump it’s not hard to see the hardcore wingnuts believing that their time has come to get rid of those pesky “entitlements” once and for all. And despite his promises, if Trump wins re-election he won’t have to run again. So, who knows how he will see his own self-interest in a second term? (And we know it’s all about his self-interest.)
Donald Trump won’t say it, but Republicans in the Senate will: Social Security and Medicare would be on the chopping block in a second Trump term. Pointing to rising deficits, Republican senators have all but promised to gut entitlements if Trump gets four more years.
Sen. John Thune (R-SD), the second-ranking Senate Republican, expressed hope to the New York Times that Trump would be “interested” in reforming Social Security and Medicare. Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) was even more optimistic. “We’ve brought it up with President Trump, who has talked about it being a second-term project,” Barrasso said. Senate Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has made no secret of wanting to cut Social Security.
In using deficit fears to target entitlement programs, many Republicans are hoping to use Trump‘s second term to cut Medicare and Social Security. First, expand deficits through tax cuts, then declare that spending must be slashed. The chief target of these proposed cuts is Social Security, which historians have noted the mainstream Republican party has long sought to diminish, privatize, or both.
That’s what they do. So far, we’ve managed to save the old age retirement and disability programs, but the way things are going I don’t think we can take anything for granted. We’ve always managed to keep fringe clowns from becoming president before too.
Senate Republicans’ talk of entitlement cuts come in the context of new estimates from the Congressional Budget Office, which predicts the deficit will climb to $1 trillion in 2020. By 2029, the deficit relative to GDP is slated to reach the highest levels since World War II—an unprecedented deficit level for an economic expansion, when deficits tend to shrink.
Since past behavior is a good predictor of future behavior, and many Republicans are signaling they want to, Republicans will likely argue for cuts to Social Security and Medicare when a recession inevitably hits. This can be seen as a reprise of the tactic known as “starve the beast.”
“Starve the beast” is a political two-step that first generates deficits through tax cuts and, second, points to the alarmingly high deficits to attack government spending and reduce entitlements. Credited to an unnamed Reagan administration official in 1985 and long associated with Reagan economic guru David Stockman, the notion of “starve the beast” emerged from around the time of Reagan’s 1981 tax cuts, which were not paired with simultaneous spending reductions.
Reagan held that higher deficits would naturally lead to budget reductions: “We can lecture our children about extravagance until we run out of voice and breath. Or we can cure their extravagance by simply reducing their allowance.”
Today, you can see the “starve the beast” tactic clearly in the 2017 tax cuts—the main cause of the projected record deficits—to future spending cuts. Trump’s top economic adviser Larry Kudlow, a veteran of the Reagan administration, has made this argument himself. He explicitly invoked “starve the beast” in a 1996 Wall Street Journal op ed:
“Tax cuts impose a restraint on the size of government. Tax cuts will starve the beast… Specifically, tax cuts provide a policy incentive to search for market solutions to the problems of Social Security, health care, education and the environment.”
It would be no surprise to learn that Kudlow, who now heads Trump‘s National Economic Council, is pursuing the same course today.
This is interesting:
Among those urging caution is longtime Republican strategist Grover Norquist, famous for his libertarian credo, “I don’t want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.” After the 2017 tax bill passed, Norquist cautioned Trump that Social Security and Medicare should be “off the table” in future spending reductions.
Apparently Grover thinks holding power is more important than drowning the government in the bathtub. Another conservative “idealist” bites the dust.
Cutting Social Security benefits in the face of severe shortfalls in retirement income would hurt most Americans. As my colleague Tony Webb recently pointed out in an episode of my podcast Reset Retirement, one-third of retirees are dependent on Social Security for 90% or more of their income, and over 60% depend on the program for more than half of their income.
As Social Security expert Nancy Altman recently testified, Social Security is essential to the American retirement system. It is the base on which we all secure our retirement incomes. As Altman pointed out, “Social Security made independent retirement a reality. Prior to its enactment, the verb ‘retire’ did not mean what it means today.”
Preserving and expanding Social Security isn’t just an economic issue—it’s a civil rights issue, as Maya Rockeymoore Cummings and Meizhu Lui have argued. Due to the racial wealth gap, as well as the fact that minority workers have worse jobs and relatively lower employer pension coverage, non-white workers have a unique reliance on their Social Security benefits in retirement.
Given the dimming outlook for many American retirees, we must expand Social Security, not cut or privatize it—no matter what the deficit is. The greatest irony in Republican’s “starve the beast” mentality is that Social Security does not even affect the deficit. So perhaps it’s not really about the deficit after all.
I have heard some ostensible progressives suggest that the greedy baby boomers deserve to lose social security because every last one of us has gleefully destroyed the world without a thought for anything but ourselves our whole lives. It would certainly cull the herd. And if that’s the ahistorical way Americans think nowadays, I’m happy to volunteer for Soylent Green treatment.
It would be surprising to see Democrats become the party that destroys social security but you never know. The world is upside down. But I still believe it will be the right that makes that happen. Too many vulnerable black, brown and female citizens benefit from those programs for Republicans not to take deep satisfying pleasure in seeing them suffer.