The Times recently reported that Republicans, anticipating a possible midterm victory, were embracing plans to cut Social Security and Medicare benefits — even though such cuts would be incredibly unpopular and make the government’s attempts absurd. GOP to present itself as the workers’ party. to classify.
Before we get to what the Republicans seem to have in mind, let’s note that the push to cut major benefits programs may be the ultimate example of an elite priority completely at odds with what ordinary Americans.
Political scientists have uncovered several areas where the wealthy want to see their spending reduced, while most voters want to see it increased. The biggest divergence of views is on Social Security, where the wealthy, by a large margin, want to see benefits cut while the general public, by an even larger margin, want them increased.
And the Republicans take the side of the rich.
Now, there is no official GOP position on Social Security and Medicare — or, indeed, on any policy issue. But the Republican Study Committee, a caucus of House members that often sets the party’s agenda, released a fairly detailed set of proposals titled “Reclaiming Our Fiscal Future” that I suspect would raise howls from outrage on the part of many voters if they were aware of this.
The committee’s proposals focus on raising the age at which Americans become eligible for Social Security and Medicare. His plan calls for raising the age at which workers can collect full Social Security benefits – which has already risen from 65 to 67 – to 70, then raising it even further in the future as the life expectancy increases (if this is the case).
At the same time, the plan would raise the age at which Medicare kicks in, which is still 65, to match the Social Security age. Given the Social Security proposal, that means delaying Medicare eligibility for five years, until age 70, and possibly delaying it even further in the future.
The report attempts to justify these large benefit reductions — because that is what they are — by pointing to the increase in life expectancy to age 65 since the programs were introduced. In other words, he is in effect arguing that our major welfare programs have become too generous because Americans are living longer.
What the report somehow fails to notice, or at least acknowledge, is that while the average life expectancy of older people was increasing before Covid hit, that increase was very uneven. The gains were much larger for Americans at the top of the income distribution — that is, people who need Social Security and Medicare the least — than for those who didn’t. most need.
Other research has shown that gains in life expectancy at age 25 — not the same measure, but surely related — have been much larger among Americans with college degrees. In fact, life expectancy has actually declined among non-college whites. And mortality diverged from region to region, with a life expectancy of 65 years in some states mostly red, significantly lower than the national average and in others, mostly blue, distinctly above.
Thus, Republican plans to cut Medicare and Social Security would impose widespread hardship, with some of the worst impacts falling on whites in the red state, non-college, i.e. the most loyal base party.
Why, then, does the party want to do this? We don’t need to take claims that it’s fiscal responsibility seriously; a fiscally responsible party would not seek to make Trump’s tax cuts permanent or oppose giving the IRS the resources it needs to crack down on tax cheats. What we see, instead, is that despite its populist rhetoric, the GOP is still a party of and for the wealthy.
A more interesting question is why Republicans think they can get away with hitting the traditional third rail of fiscal policy. Social Security remains as popular as ever; Republicans themselves campaigned against Obamacare by claiming, falsely, that it would cut Medicare. Why imagine that proposals to deny benefits to many Americans by raising the age of eligibility will not provoke a backlash?
At least part of the answer is surely the expectation that the right-wing disinformation machine can cover up what the GOP is doing. The Republican Review Committee released a 153-page report calling for, among other things, denying full Social Security benefits to Americans under 70; That didn’t stop Sean Hannity from to declare the other day that “not a single Republican ever said they wanted to take your Social Security away from you.”
Finally, how do Republicans imagine they can adopt either of these programs? After all, even if they win the midterm elections, they won’t have enough votes to override a Biden veto.
Unfortunately, we know the answer: If the Republicans win one or both houses of Congress, they will try to achieve their goals not through the normal legislative process but through blackmail. They will threaten to cause a global financial crisis by refusing to raise the debt ceiling. If the Democrats neutralize this threat, the Republicans will try to get their way by making America ungovernable by other means.
Will they succeed? Stay tuned.