Top Republicans Keep Talking About Plans To Cut Medicare And Social Security

WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 25: U.S. House Minority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) speaks as House Minority Whip Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) listens (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Generally, three weeks before midterm elections that could make or break a party’s chances of congressional control, lawmakers emphasize the popular parts of their agenda. But for Republicans this year, not so. 

For a few weeks now, they’ve been open about their intention to hold the debt ceiling hostage, a tactic they’ve used repeatedly since Tea Party Republicans tried it out in 2011. It works more or less the same way each time: Republican lawmakers say they will not vote to raise or suspend the debt ceiling, threatening to let the United States default on its debts, which would almost certainly trigger a global economic crisis. In exchange, they demand political concessions from the Democratic President. 

This time, they’re planning to demand cuts to Medicare and Social Security — a policy position so staggeringly unpopular, one would expect them to keep it shelved until after they’d procured enough votes to enact it. 

House Republicans, some of whom are poised to take over major committees in the case of a congressional flip, have been open about this intent both in interviews and, in terms of their desired changes to the programs, in the Republican Study Committee budget released earlier this year.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) said more in an interview with Punchbowl News published Tuesday. 

“You can’t just continue down the path to keep spending and adding to the debt. And if people want to make a debt ceiling [for a longer period of time], just like anything else, there comes a point in time where, okay, we’ll provide you more money, but you got to change your current behavior. We’re not just going to keep lifting your credit card limit, right?” he said. “And we should seriously sit together and [figure out] where can we eliminate some waste? Where can we make the economy grow stronger?”

He added that he would not “predetermine” anything in terms of extorting cuts to Social Security and Medicare during a debt ceiling standoff. 

House Republican Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) said on Fox News Sunday that calling what Republicans want to do to the two programs “cuts” is misleading. He said they actually want to “strengthen” and “shore up” the programs. 

In the study committee budget, Republicans call for raising the age of eligibility for both Medicare and Social Security, and encourage increased means testing for Medicare. 

To keep the programs solvent, Democrats have suggested raising taxes on the wealthy rather than making more people ineligible. 

Democrats have started to seize on this Republican positioning. 

“RT if you agree: it’s shameful that House Republicans are once again threatening to hold the debt limit hostage and risking the U.S. economy in order to slash Medicare and Social Security programs,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) tweeted last week. 

“Are you going to support a party that wants to give more tax breaks to the rich, cut Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid, or are you going to support people prepared to stand up for working people?” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) added Sunday on NBC. 

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