Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is downplaying expectations for a political fight over Social Security or Medicare in the new Congress.
“The only way to do entitlement eligibility changes is on a bipartisan basis,” he said on Thursday at an annual Republican retreat in Hershey, Pa. “In terms of the Senate we do not intend to be offering unilateral, one party-only entitlement eligibility changes.”
The GOP leader’s comments amount to a promise that Senate Republicans won’t offer proposals to cut entitlement benefits without Democratic support, remarks that are notable given a rule change by House Republicans that critics say seeks to leverage a relatively routine shortfall in the Social Security disability trust fund anticipated in 2016 into broader changes to the 80-year-old program. Social Security advocates are girding for battle.
McConnell’s remarks reflect his longstanding caution when it comes to the politics of cutting retirement benefits. He has supported modest cuts to future Social Security benefits in recent years but has typically been careful not to let his party be seen as pushing for them.
He signaled that retirement programs would eventually have to be scaled back.
“We all know the entitlement programs are in serious trouble — some sooner than others,” McConnell said on Thursday. “But it is a perfect candidate for agreement when you have divided government.”
House Republicans appear more interested in pushing for Social Security changes, as House Budget Chair Tom Price (R-GA) signaled this month.
Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) expressed doubt that President Barack Obama would play ball on entitlement changes.
“The president never got serious about doing the kinds of reforms that would put America’s fiscal health in proper shape,” he said in Hershey. “I like to be hopeful. … I’ve got my doubts about whether the president would be serious.”