A prominent member of Republican leadership recently announced support for cutting Medicare and Social Security benefits to pay for the ballooning budget deficit created by last year’s sprawling federal tax cuts.
Rep. Steve Stivers of Ohio, who heads the campaign arm for Republican U.S. House candidates, made the comments in an interview last month with CNBC, suggesting that tax cuts for the very richest Americans should come at the expense of working families’ retirement security.
“For decades, the government has withdrawn a small amount of money out of every American’s paycheck and put it toward insurance programs designed to help protect working people against economic hardship in sickness or retirement,” said IBEW International President Lonnie Stephenson. “It’s outrageous how some in Congress continue to think of Social Security and Medicare as nothing more than convenient piggy banks that are available to bail them out of their bad ideas.”
Last November, both houses of Congress approved a bill that, among other things, provided the wealthiest 1 percent with the vast majority of incremental tax cuts over the next 10 years, alongside dozens of loopholes tailored to help the richest Americans pay a much lower percentage of taxes than working people, who make far less.
The bill, signed into law by President Donald Trump on Dec. 22, also incentivized American corporations to move jobs — and profits — out of the U.S.
But Congress failed to include a way to pay for the cuts. In April, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office concluded that, without offsetting spending cuts, America’s budget deficit was on track to swell to $11.7 trillion by 2027.
A CNBC reporter brought up the prediction in an August interview with Stivers. Rather than address the issue directly, Stivers — the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee — pivoted to attack Medicare and Social Security.
“I do think we need to deal with some of our spending,” Stivers told the reporter. “We’ve got to try to figure out how to spend less.” He went on to propose so-called “entitlement reform” as the solution.
“I don’t want to be, you know, mean and kick people off of programs,” he said. “It might cost them a little more for their social subsidy, but they actually can keep their Medicaid expansion, or they can keep their housing, but they actually have an incentive to take that pay raise and do better and pay more taxes.”
Stivers was not proposing anything new. Shortly after Congress passed the tax cut bill, House Speaker Paul Ryan told KHOW radio in Denver that “entitlement reform…is how you tackle the debt and the deficit.
“[I]t’s the health care entitlements that are the big drivers of our debt,” Ryan claimed, “so we spend more time on the health care entitlements — because that’s really where the problem lies, fiscally speaking.”
Ryan, who is not running for reelection to his Wisconsin House seat, recently told a gathering organized by the WisPolitics website in his home state that the success of such ideas hinges on who controls the House and Senate following the midterm elections on Tuesday, Nov. 6.
Stephenson said that this is one of the many things that all IBEW members — and their family and friends — should consider as they cast their votes.
“Do our elected representatives want to cut our hard-earned benefits or do they want to work to protect them?” Stephenson said. “And are we willing to work a few years longer simply to pay for such cuts?
“Government insurance programs like Social Security and Medicare are promises, not entitlements,” he said. “We paid for them, so we deserve to have them when we need them. Our representatives shouldn’t be trying to pay their bills at the expense of working people.”