Why Social Security and Medicare are on the ballot.
What will happen if the blue wave in the midterm elections falls short? Clearly, at this point it still might: Democrats will surely receive more votes than Republicans, but thanks to gerrymandering and population geography, the U.S. electoral system gives excess weight to rural, white voters who still have faith in President Trump. What if, thanks to that excess weight, the minority prevails?
.. But the attack on the social safety net probably wouldn’t stop with a rollback of Obama-era expansion: Longstanding programs, very much including Social Security and Medicare, would also be on the chopping block. Who says so? Republicans themselves.
.. 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.
.. 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.”