Social Security is 83 years old, and Medicare is 52 years old. They are two of the most successful government programs ever passed -- keeping most seniors in America out of abject poverty and protecting their health.
But the Republicans have never liked either program. They voted against their creation, and have been trying to eliminate both ever since. That's because the GOP's constituency is the rich -- people who don't need either program. They don't care about the people who need Social Security and Medicare.
Recently, the Republicans gave the rich a huge tax cut. That cut vastly ballooned the federal deficit to about a trillion dollars a year. They now want to use that to cut Social Security and Medicare (even though Social Security adds nothing to the deficit and Medicare adds very little).
In other words, they want seniors to pay for the huge tax cuts they gave to the rich. Here's how Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman (pictured) describes it:
In a recent interview with CNBC’s John Harwood, Representative Steve Stivers, the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee — in effect, the man charged with containing the blue wave — declared that, given the size of the budget Deficit, the federal government needs to save money by cutting spending on social programs. When pressed about whether that included Social Security and Medicare, he admitted that it did.
And he’s not alone in seeing major cuts in core programs for older Americans as the next step if Republicans win in November. Many major figures in the G.O.P., including the departing speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, and multiple senators, have said the same thing. (Meanwhile, groups tied to Ryan have been running attack ads accusing Democrats of planning to cut Medicare funding — but hey, consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds. So, apparently, is honesty.)
Now, Republicans who call for cuts in social spending to balance the budget are showing extraordinary chutzpah, which is traditionally defined as what you exhibit when you kill your parents, then plead for mercy because you’re an orphan. After all, the same Republicans now wringing their hands over budget deficits just blew up that same deficit by enacting a huge tax cut for corporations and the wealthy.
So it might seem shocking that only a few months later they’re once again posing as deficit hawks and calling for spending cuts. That is, it might seem shocking if it weren’t for the fact that this has been the G.O.P.’s budget strategy for decades. First, cut taxes. Then, bemoan the deficit created by those tax cuts and demand cuts in social spending. Lather, rinse, repeat.
This strategy, known as “starve the beast,” has been around since the 1970s, when Republican economists like Alan Greenspan and Milton Friedman began declaring that the role of tax cuts in worsening budget deficits was a feature, not a bug. As Greenspan openly put it in 1978, the goal was to rein in spending with tax cuts that reduce revenue, then “trust that there is a political limit to deficit spending.”
It’s true that when tax cuts are on the table their proponents tend to deny that they’ll increase the deficit, claiming that they’ll provide a miraculous boost to the economy and that tax receipts will actually rise. But there’s not a shred of evidence to support this claim, and it has never been clear whether anyone with real political power has ever believed it. For the most part it’s just a smoke screen to help conceal the G.O.P.’s true intentions.
The puzzle is why Republicans keep getting away with this bait-and-switch.
Fifteen years ago I wrote a long piece titled “The Tax-Cut Con,” describing what was even then a time-honored scam; it reads almost word for word as a description of Republican strategy in 2017-18. Yet I keep reading news analyses expressing puzzlement that men who were strident deficit hawks in the Obama years so cheerfully signed on to a budget-busting tax cut under Trump. To say the obvious: These men were never deficit hawks; it was always a pose. . . .
If the G.O.P. holds its majority, Social Security and Medicare as we know them will be very much in danger.