Why Mitch McConnell Is Right About Cutting Social Security

Truth is something that we are not used to hearing in the current political climate so it can come as a bit of a shock when a politician blurts out a harsh dose of reality. That was the case yesterday when Mitch McConnell confronted the American people with the bitter fact that the deficit is too large and the only way to cut it is by slashing the sacred cows of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

“It’s disappointing but it’s not a Republican problem, McConnell told Bloomberg. “It’s a bipartisan problem. Unwillingness to address the real drivers of the debt by doing anything to adjust those programs to the demographics of America in the future.”

While it is not solely a Republican problem, the GOP has done little in the way of deficit reduction recently. This week the Treasury Department revealed that the deficit grew to $779 billion, its highest level since shortly after the Tea Party revolution. After trimming budgets during the Obama Administration, the Republican Congress enacted tax reform that stimulated the economy but slashed corporate tax revenues. At the same time, spending increased due to a larger military budget as well as increased interest payments on the national debt and increased Social Security spending.

The entitlement problem is so big that it really doesn’t matter how much cutting we do in other parts of the budget if we don’t reform entitlements. For example, the entire defense budget is only 14 percent of federal spending. The sum total of all foreign aid is only 1.2 percent of the federal budget.

The entitlement programs are at a crisis stage. The Social Security trustee report predicts that in only four years Social Security will begin to pay out more than it takes in. If nothing is done, only 16 years from now in 2034 the Social Security trust fund will be bankrupt.

The truth is that not even conservative voters really want to reform Social Security. Many conservatives have bought into the lie that the Social Security tax that comes out of their paychecks is a contribution that goes into their account. In reality, involuntary Social Security “contributions” go into a trust fund, per the Social Security Administration, from which benefits are paid from the trust fund and the excess “must be invested, on a daily basis, in securities guaranteed as to both principal and interest by the Federal government.” This is another way of saying that the Social Security benefits are paid from current contributions. Any funds left over are loaned to the federal government, which must pay them back with interest.

Voters seem to be of two minds about Social Security. On one hand, many believe that Social Security is a socialist Ponzi scheme, redistributing wealth from workers to retirees. Nevertheless, the voters also become militant at the very suggestion that benefits might be cut and that they could lose some of their “contributions.”

Even though there is no individual account containing their Social Security savings, American workers have been promised that their taxes will go to fund their retirement. It would be unconscionable for the government to break this promise to those in or near retirement. That is why Republican plans to reform the entitlements would preserve the status quo for retirees and older workers while giving younger workers the option to take part in a plan that has a better chance of being there when they retire.

Bernie Sanders to Introduce Medicare-For-All Bill

In an op-ed for the New York Times, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) says that he plans to introduce a bill that would replace private health insurance with Medicare for “every family in America.” Sanders, who bills himself as a democratic socialist, believes that the answer to the Obamacare crisis is more government control of the nation’s healthcare.

Under the Sanders plan, a four-year transition period would move the country from private health insurance to a national single-payer plan. Sanders describes the details of the transition:

“In the first year, benefits to older people would be expanded to include dental care, vision coverage and hearing aids, and the eligibility age for Medicare would be lowered to 55. All children under the age of 18 would also be covered. In the second year, the eligibility age would be lowered to 45 and in the third year to 35. By the fourth year, every man, woman and child in the country would be covered by Medicare for All.”

Sen. John Barasso (R-Wy.) pre-empted many of Sanders’ arguments in a Tuesday op-ed on Fox News. Barasso, a medical doctor, pointed out that single-payer plans in other countries have not worked out well. “The British have found rationing necessary partly because of the exorbitant cost of ‘free’ medical care,” he wrote. Barasso also cited “the shortage of professionals to provide this care” as the number of British doctors, nurses and midwives has dropped in recent years.

While Sanders and others cite poor outcomes of American healthcare, Barasso points out, “The U.K. ranks 20th out of 24 western countries for breast cancer survival. The U.S. is first. For ischemic stroke the U.K. is 25th out of 30 countries. The U.S. is fourth.”

While Sanders’ proposal will be a nonstarter in the Republican-controlled Congress, it could portend things to come if Democrats return to the majority. Opinion polls in recent months have indicated a growing support for a federal role in healthcare. Pew Research found that 60 percent of Americans say that it is the federal government’s responsibility to ensure healthcare coverage for all Americans. Last spring, an Economist/You Gov poll found that that 60 percent favored a Medicare-for-all approach. That number includes 40 percent of Trump voters.

While most conservatives and Republicans will ridicule Sanders’ proposal as radical and dead-on-arrival, the idea of Medicare-for-all might have broader appeal than they suspect. If conservatives do not confront the idea head-on by enacting a better proposal, it is very possible that Republicans could face an invigorated Democratic Party in 2018 and 2020.

It is a cautionary tale to recall that Republicans defeated Hillarycare in the 1990s, but then failed to enact healthcare reforms of their own during the Bush Administration. That failure led directly to the election of Barack Obama and the Affordable Care Act.

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Budget Hawks To Challenge Trump Spending Plans

 

 

A battle over spending is shaping up between President Trump and congressional Republicans. Many of Trump’s campaign promises involved spending large amounts of tax money on items from the military to infrastructure. Now budget hawks in Congress are gearing up to try to prevent the deficit from exploding over the next four years.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the tensions surfaced in the confirmation hearing of Mick Mulvaney, a South Carolina congressman who has been nominated by Mr. Trump to head the White House Office of Management and Budget. Mulvaney faced sharp questions from two different camps in the GOP. On one side were defense hawks who were concerned about Rep. Mulvaney’s past votes to cut military spending. On the other were those at odds with Mr. Trump’s campaign promise not to cut Social Security or Medicare.

While the Trump Administration has indicated that it plans some cuts in government spending, the elephant in the room is that programs like the National Endowment for the Arts and the Center for Public Broadcasting aren’t what’s busting the federal budget. Even foreign aid only represents about one percent of federal spending.

Let’s face it, America. We have an entitlement problem.

Entitlements make up about half of the federal budget. The largest entitlement of all is a program that many don’t even think of as an entitlement. Social Security accounts for 24 percent of the federal budget and is the largest single budget item. Health spending in the form of Medicare, Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and Obamacare subsidies account for another 25 percent. Defense spending is a distant third at 16 percent. Entitlement spending is expected to rise even further as Baby Boomers age and leave the workforce.

“I’m not looking to pick a fight with the president of the United States, but if his goal is to put the country on a fiscally sound course, he’s going to have to address entitlement reform,” Rep. Tom Cole (R., Okla.) told the Journal. “Anybody who is going to balance the budget on discretionary spending [cuts] is on a fool’s errand.”

A fight that is likely to come before entitlement reform is Mr. Trump’s plan for an infrastructure stimulus. Rep. Mulvaney and many Republicans were critical of the infrastructure spending plan before the election, but a separate Journal article noted that Democrats were embracing the $1 trillion proposal.

“We’re challenging him to join us even if his Republican colleagues in the House and Senate aren’t for it,” Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said. This raises the possibility that President Trump could form a bipartisan alliance with congressional Democrats to enact his spending proposals as well as block conservative attempts at entitlement reform.

The Republican budget hawks will have allies in the Trump Administration. Mr. Mulvaney, a proponent of entitlement reform during his four terms in Congress, said, “I haven’t been quiet and shy since I’ve been here. The president knew what he was getting when he asked me to fill this role.”

Likewise, the fiscally conservative Heritage Foundation was influential in the Trump transition team. Since the group holds President Trump’s ear, reports like the one that advise him to “not be taken in by hyperbolic rhetoric about the state of the nation’s infrastructure or lured by false promises of stimulus-induced job creation” may prove influential in the long term.

The Trump campaign has led to a Trump Administration that is filled with contradictions. Trump’s promises of spending, some made as recently as last week, conflict with his appointment of fiscal conservatives like Mulvaney. Other appointees, such as Steven Mnuchin, seem to be more squishy on deficit spending.

Will Trump follow his advisors or his instincts? Will Republicans back him if Trump follows his liberal inclinations on spending? Stay tuned and find out.