Social Security
Kevin McCarthy

Speaker Kevin McCarthy

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy said on Wednesday that he wants to create a commission to look into future cuts to Social Security and Medicare because President Joe Biden refused to allow any cuts to the programs during negotiations over raising the debt ceiling.

“We only got to look at 11 percent of the budget to find these cuts. We have to look at the entire budget,” McCarthy said during an appearance on Fox News.

When anchor Harris Faulkner asked McCarthy why Republicans didn’t see the entire budget during debt ceiling talks, McCarthy replied, “The president walled off all the others.”

McCarthy said: “The majority driver of the budget is mandatory spending. It’s Medicare, Social Security, interest on the debt.” He told Faulkner that Congress was not done cutting spending out of the budget: “You know what, I’m going to make some people uncomfortable by doing that, but I’m not going to give up on the American people. … This is the first step. I’m going to announce a commission coming forward from the speaker, from bipartisan on both sides of the aisle,” to look for possible further budget cuts.

It’s unclear who would be on the committee, or how it would be different from the House Budget Committee, which exercises oversight of the annual federal budget. A McCarthy spokesperson did not return a request for comment from the American Independent Foundation regarding the committee’s makeup.

But Democrats are already slamming the proposal.

“The Speaker is once again making it clear that Republicans cannot be trusted to protect these lifesaving programs and that’s why voters will relegate them back to the minority next year,” Viet Shelton, a spokesperson for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which works to elect Democrats to the House, told the American Independent Foundation.

McCarthy and House Republicans had been refusing to raise the debt ceiling without any cuts in federal spending, claiming the national debt is out of control and needs to be reined in. Republican lawmakers, however, played a large role in the debt, voting to pass a massive tax bill and multiple COVID-19 packages that added $7.8 trillion in debt during former President Donald Trump’s tenure, according to a report from ProPublica.

In remarks prepared for his State of the Union address in February, Biden asked Republicans to agree that they would not force cuts to Social Security and Medicaid in exchange for raising the debt ceiling:

Let us commit here tonight that the full faith and credit of the United States of America will never, ever be questioned. Some of my Republican friends want to take the economy hostage unless I agree to their economic plans. All of you at home should know what their plans are. Instead of making the wealthy pay their fair share, some Republicans want Medicare and Social Security to sunset every five years. That means if Congress doesn’t vote to keep them, those programs will go away. Other Republicans say if we don’t cut Social Security and Medicare, they’ll let America default on its debt for the first time in our history. I won’t let that happen. Social Security and Medicare are a lifeline for millions of seniors.

When Republicans booed Biden’s comments, he ad libbed, “As we all apparently agree, Social Security and Medicare is off the books now, right?”

As a result of Social Security and Medicare cuts being taken off the table during the debt ceiling negotiations, White House concessions to House Republicans were confined to caps on discretionary spending for the next two years, some cuts to IRS funding, and new work requirements for food stamps.

Republican hard-liners have railed against the deal, which would suspend the debt limit through January 2025, after which it would raise the cap by one percent, saying it did not make enough cuts.

“No. Republican. Should. Support. This,” Rep. Chip Roy, a Texas Republican leading the opposition to the deal, tweeted on Tuesday.

Combined, Social Security and Medicare account for nearly one-third of the federal budget, according to data from the Treasury Department.

But cutting funding to the programs, which provide retirement, survivor, disability and health care benefits to Americans, is deeply unpopular among voters.

An Associated Press poll published in April found 79 percent of voters oppose cutting Social Security benefits or raising the eligibility age, while 70 percent oppose raising the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 67.

A Fox News poll from March found that 71 percent of voters thought it was more important to keep the Social Security and Medicare programs funded at current levels than to reduce the deficit.

Democrats have applauded Biden for the deal he negotiated.

“I commend President Biden for his leadership in fending off devastating cuts and protecting Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid,” Rep. Kevin Mullin (D-CA) tweeted early Thursday morning.

Reprinted with permission from American Independent.

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Janet Yellen

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen

Barely House Speaker Kevin McCarthy has been valiantly trying to turn the tables on President Joe Biden for months, ever since the president so deftly boxed in Republicans at the State of the Union address in early February and forced them to agree that Social Security and Medicare are sacrosanct. Sounding like a grade schooler, McCarthy tried to taunt Biden ahead of the House vote on the Republicans’ dystopian debt ceiling hike and funding cuts extortion bill. Biden’s the one too “afraid” to meet with him, and the one who’s “jeopardizing Medicare and Social Security,” McCarthy whined.

Biden is refusing to engage in the tit-for-tat, keeping on message that Social Security and Medicare are too important to be playing these kinds of games over. A White House official told Bloomberg on background that they believe it’s a key wedge issue against Republicans in 2024, and will use it to fight McCarthy’s debt ceiling extortion and keep using it even after that issue is resolved.

While Biden is continuing to insist that budget talks and the debt ceiling remain separate issues, he’s keeping the drumbeat of protecting these programs, with the message “MAGA extremists are trying to gut Social Security and Medicare.”

There’s good reason for that: polling. A new YouGov/Economist poll shows that 70 percent of voters oppose cuts to the programs, and that includes 64 percent of Republican voters. Celinda Lake, president of Lake Research Partners, told Bloomberg, “Social Security and Medicare is the number one winning argument against Republicans in polling.”

There’s also the fact that it happens to be true that Republicans just can’t stop themselves from trying to damage the programs. While they didn’t include actual benefits cuts in the debt ceiling extortion bill, they propose such drastic cuts to the Social Security Administration that enrollees in the programs would be harmed.

The 22 percent across-the-board cuts required by the bill “would greatly harm our ability to serve the public as we are already struggling to recover from the effects of the pandemic,” the Social Security Administration told House Democrats in a letter responding to their request for estimates of the impact McCarthy’s bill would have. The SSA would have to close field offices and shorten operating hours, as well as furlough or lay off workers. All this would mean delays in disability application decisions and processing retirement claims.

“If we are faced with a cut of more than six percent, it would be catastrophic for the agency and for the people depending on Social Security programs supporting their daily needs,” SSA said. ”For every $100 million below the 6 percent reduction, we would have to lay off an additional 1,000 people, further undermining services to the public. Every 1,000 staff lay off is the equivalent of closing over 40 field offices.”

That’s the best-case scenario under the Republican plan. But since they are showing every inclination to go over the debt ceiling cliff, the worst could happen. If it does, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said this week, “it is unlikely that the federal government would be able to issue payments to millions of Americans, including our military families and seniors who rely on Social Security.”

McCarthy seems to be operating under the assumption that the funding cuts part of his extortion bill takes the place of creating an actual budget, because it’s almost May—weeks behind the stated (albeit rarely met) deadline for it, and the House still hasn’t done that.

The only complete budget any House Republican group has developed came from the Republican Study Committee—which has most of the Republican conference as members—before the last election. It has provisions “raising the eligibility ages for each program, along with withholding payments for individuals who retire early or had a certain income, and privatized funding for Social Security to lower income taxes.”

Those are definitely benefit cuts.

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos.