Speaker Kevin McCarthy said this week that Republicans will not call for cuts in Social Security or Medicare as they wheel and deal over the debt ceiling. He has promised to take Social Security and Medicare cuts “off the table.”
Here are 10 reasons why you shouldn’t believe him:
1. It’s incredibly difficult to cut federal spending without touching Social Security and Medicare. Social Security and Medicare together comprise over a third of the federal budget. Everything else (except defense, which is a sixth of the budget) is tiny by comparison.
2. Republicans don’t want to cut defense, but they haven’t said what they’d cut other than Social Security, Medicare, and defense.
3. A number of senior Republicans in the House — including Reps. Jason Smith (R-Mo.), Jodey Arrington (R-Texas), Buddy Carter (R-Ga.), and Lloyd Smucker (R-Pa.) —have said they view the debt ceiling as a “leverage point” to extract concessions from Democrats, including potentially raising the retirement age and reducing Social Security benefits.
4. Several Republicans who will serve on the House Budget Committee have explicitly said they plan to take aim at Social Security and Medicare. (Georgia’s Buddy Carter said, “Our main focus has got to be on nondiscretionary — it’s got to be on entitlements.”)
5. In an appearance on Fox News, House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.) defended his party’s plans for “shoring up” Medicare and Social Security — using the false talking point that they are in a “crisis.” (I used to be a trustee of the Social Security and Medicare Trust Funds and still keep up with the reports, and I can assure you they’re not in danger of running out of money.)
6. The Republican Study Committee released a proposal last year calling for the retirement age to be raised to 70, for means-testing Social Security benefits, and for partially privatizing Social Security.
7. Last April, Senator Rick Scott (R-Fla.), chair of the Senate Republicans’ campaign arm, issued a multipoint manifesto calling for ending funding for Social Security, Medicare, and other so-called “nondiscretionary” programs every five years, unless a congressional majority explicitly voted to renew them. Scott’s plan would also “force Congress to issue a report every year telling the public what they plan to do when Social Security and Medicare go bankrupt,” a reference to the assumed (and inaccurate) depletion of its trust funds in a few years.
8. Prominent Republicans continue to devise plans to burden Social Security. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) recently proposed financing parental leave by having working parents borrow payments from their future Social Security benefits. If a parent died before “paying back” their benefits, their heirs would be forced to pay it from what remained of the parent’s estate.
9. Republicans have hated Social Security since its inception in 1935 and Medicare since it began in 1965. They called FDR a “socialist” for passing Social Security. They called Lyndon Johnson a “socialist” for passing Medicare. Before Medicare was created, Ronald Reagan warned of the existential dangers of “socialized medicine.”
10. Their opposition to these programs has not been merely ideological. They have been horrified at how popular these programs are with the public and how much the public relies on them — thereby justifying government activism for the benefit of average working people. Which is why former Speaker Newt Gingrich wanted Medicare “to wither on the vine,” why former President George W. Bush privatized parts of Medicare and sought to privatize Social Security, and why former Speaker Paul Ryan proposed annual budgets to turn Medicare into a voucher program and privatize Social Security.