During a speech in St. Charles, Mo., on Nov. 29, President Trump said he intends to “go into welfare reform” after overhauling the tax code and the health-care system. (The Washington Post)
High-ranking Republicans are hinting that, after their tax overhaul, the party intends to look at cutting spending on welfare, entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare, andother parts of the social safety net.
As Republicans advocate spending cuts, they have frequently cited a need to reduce the national deficit while growing the economy.
“You also have to bring spending under control. And not discretionary spending. That isn’t the driver of our debt. The driver of our debt is the structure of Social Security and Medicare for future beneficiaries,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said this week.
While whipping votes for a GOP tax bill on Thursday, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin G. Hatch (R-
“We’re spending ourselves into bankruptcy,” Hatch said. “Now, let’s just be honest about it: We’re in trouble. This country is in deep debt. You don’t help the poor by not solving the problems of debt, and you don’t help the poor by continually pushing more and more liberal programs through.”
The GOP tax bill currently under consideration in the Senate would increase the federal deficit by nearly $1.5 trillion over a decade, according to Congress’s official tax analysts and multiple other nonpartisan analysts. When economic growth the measure could create is included in the analysis, Congress’s official tax scorekeeper predicted the bill would add $1 trillion to the deficit over 10 years.
President Trump greets Vice President Pence, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R), and House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) in July. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
Trump has not clarified which specific programs would be affected by the proposed “welfare reform.”
During the presidential campaign, Trump vowed that there would be “no cuts” to Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid, although the president has reversed many of his economic campaign promises since taking office.
The remarks from leading Republicans have fueled a growing fear among liberals that the GOP will use higher deficits — in part caused by their tax bill — as a pretext to accomplish the long-held conservative policy objective of cutting government health-care and social-service spending, which the left believes would hit the poor the hardest.
“What’s coming next is all too predictable: The deficit hawks will come flying back after this bill becomes law,” said Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), the ranking Democrat on the finance committee. “Republicans are already saying ‘entitlement reform’ and ‘welfare reform’ are next up on the docket. But nobody should be fooled — that’s just code for attacks on Medicaid, on Medicare, on Social Security, on anti-hunger programs.”
On the Senate floor Thursday night, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) asked Rubio and Sen. Patrick J. Toomey (R-Pa.) to promise that Republicans would not advance cuts to Medicare and Social Security after their tax bill. Toomey said that there was “no secret plan” to do so, while Rubio said he opposed cuts to either program for current beneficiaries. However, neither closed the door to changing the programs for future beneficiaries.
“I am not going to support any cuts to people who are on the program and need those benefits. But I want this program to survive,” Toomey said. To which Sanders responded: “He just told you he’s going to cut Social Security.”
Many conservatives have long argued for cutting and changing social safety net programs, arguing that anti-poverty programs have failed and that Social Security spending is growing at an unsustainable rate.
Still, members of both parties have long been reticent to cut benefits, especially for seniors, due in part to the potential political cost of doing so. And in discussing changes, Republicans, including Rubio, have largely confined their ideas to plans that would affect new beneficiaries, rather than current ones.
Still, it may be particularly difficult for Republicans to push those measures ahead of the 2018 midterm elections, in which many in swing states and districts face well-funded Democratic challengers hoping to ride an anti-Trump wave into office.