Members Only | February 8, 2023 | Reading Time: 4 minutes
The GOP is coming for your Social Security and Medicare
The GOP is coming for your Social Security and Medicare.
They are coming for it following an election in which they notably failed to tell voters they were coming for it, and sometimes denied outright that they were.
It’s another sign of the Republicans’ increasing hostility toward the democratic process and democratic accountability. They lie to, mistrust and ignore voters — not just of the opposing party, but of their own.
The planned assault on the most popular programs in American politics shows why Republicans keep losing elections. It also shows that our democracy has weakened to the point where universal public opposition is not enough to prevent vindictive authoritarian politicians from harming their constituents.
In the 2022 election, the Republicans ran on a scattershot of issues.
Their main talking point was inflation, which they denounced. A lot. They had few plans to reduce it, but they agreed it was bad and Biden’s fault.
Republicans also blamed crime on Democratic policies.
Inflation was falling by November, however, and the data suggests violent crime also fell. Neither issue resonated with voters, which is why the Republicans had the worst midterm outing of an opposition party in decades.
One issue the GOP did not run on?
Gutting Social Security.
they scrambled to assure voters they were not.
Florida Senator Rick Scott, the chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), did encourage the party to run on attacking Social Security. He proposed legislation that would sunset all federal legislation in five years.
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That would mean Social Security and Medicare would have to be restored every five years. A minority of Republicans could end them with the filibuster.
Scott’s plan was radioactive. Social Security is incredibly popular. Ninety-six percent of Americans support it, including more than 90 percent of Republicans.
Medicare is popular. Of adults 65 and older, 94 percent report being satisfied or very satisfied with it.
Predictably, some Republicans ran away from Scott’s scheme.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell publicly and explicitly repudiated it. Then-House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy didn’t endorse the plan either.
Democrats said Republicans wanted to destroy the programs. But since Republicans said they didn’t, the mainstream media largely ignored them.
Washington Senator Patty Murray, for example, said the Republicans were planning to end Social Security and Medicare. But Glenn Kessler, the Washington Post’s fact checker, insisted her claims were false and gave them four Pinocchios.
“Don’t worry, seniors,” Kessler declared.
“This is yet another example in which Democrats strain to conjure up a nonexistent GOP plan regarding Social Security and Medicare.”
2022 is behind us. We have held an election in which Republicans said they would not come for massively popular entitlements, and in which the pundit corps assured us the Republicans would not come for massively popular entitlements.
So of course Republicans are coming for massively popular entitlements.
The Republican House wants to drastically curtail federal spending purportedly in the name of fiscal health. But really (given their support for massive tax cuts for the rich) they want to cut spending just because they hate the social safety net.
The GOP has targeted health care and education spending. But some members of the caucus have also proposed special panels to target Medicare. They also want to target Social Security by raising the retirement age to 70 for younger Americans.
Since Democrats control the Senate and the presidency, the House would under normal circumstances be unable to pass this extremely unpopular measure.
However, a small number of Republicans hope to use the looming debt ceiling crisis to blackmail Democrats into cuts.
If Congress does not raise the debt ceiling, the US will default on its debt. That would create a massive financial collapse and panic, probably plunging the world into a deep recession and causing widespread and unnecessary suffering.
Republicans say they will not raise the ceiling unless Democrats capitulate on all of their spending demands.
Again, Social Security and Medicare are exceedingly popular with Republicans. This is why Republicans did not run on attacking the program in 2022. It’s why even former President Donald Trump has urged Republicans not to cut them.
Yet GOP House members, fresh from a historic and humiliating defeat, seem bent on defying their own.
It seems bizarre.
But it’s the logical endpoint of a party that has embraced voter suppression and outright denial of election results.
The GOP doesn’t try to win elections through appeals. It tries to win them through suppression. When they lose, candidates don’t adjust; they simply insist the Democrats rigged the results.
Moreover, their tactics are effective.
Gerrymandering has enabled Republicans to maintain supermajorities in state legislatures even when beaten statewide.
Republicans have only won the popular vote in a presidential election once in the last 30 years. But thanks to the Republican lean of the Senate and the Electoral College, they now have a supermajority on the Supreme Court.
The GOP knows they are a minoritarian party. They know they don’t need to win votes to hold power.
As a result, Republicans are increasingly hostile to small-d democratic values and the democratic process generally. The party works, not to be accountable to voters, but to sever and undermine measures of accountability.
The upshot is a bunch of lawmakers insulated and alienated from their own voters, pursuing ideological policies at the behest of donors heedless of, and even contemptuous of, public input or preferences.
Part of the reason the media doesn’t believe the GOP will destroy Social Security is that it would be devastatingly unpopular.
But authoritarian rulers are only fitfully concerned with public opinion. The GOP is capable of passing policies that would immiserate the country and harm their own.
Hopefully they can be stopped this time.
But after this debacle, it would be helpful if the media acknowledged in future elections what is actually at stake when the Republicans win.
Noah Berlatsky writes about the political economy for the Editorial Board. He lives in Chicago. Find him @nberlat.
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