A new budget proposal from the largest House GOP faction is reigniting a battle over the future of Social Security and Medicare, leaving them at odds with former President Trump and prompting attacks from the White House.
Last week, the 176-member Republican Study Committee detailed changes it would make to entitlement programs in an effort to extend their lifespan. For Medicare, it would begin offering seniors assistance to help buy private health coverage that competes against government insurance plans; it would also gradually raise the Social Security eligibility age to 69 for those who aren’t close to retiring.
The proposals put the group at conflict with the GOP’s presidential frontrunners. Trump has repeatedly insisted he will not touch Social Security and Medicare if he is re-elected, and urged Republicans currently in Congress not to cut “a single penny” from the programs. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has similarly promised not to touch entitlements for seniors, after coming under attack by Trump over his votes to do so in the past.
The proposal has also given the White House an opportunity to escalate its attacks on Republicans after the debt limit deal that was signed into law. White House spokesperson Andrew Bates assailed Republicans in a Wednesday strategy memo, saying “the House GOP is tripling down on a bold policy message: telling the American middle class to go to hell.”
“We’re in a place to put legislation forward to talk about policies that we believe will work,” Rep. Kevin Hern, chair of the RSC, told Semafor. “People can be critical of it on both sides of the aisle, and I’m sure there will be as there has been, and that’s okay.”
As the longtime policy shop for Capitol Hill conservatives, the RSC has spent decades putting forth entitlement reform proposals with little hope of passing. But at this point, the exercise seems like a bit more political trouble than it can possibly be worth.
Sure, many traditional Republicans are still intellectually devoted to the cause of trimming Medicare and Social Security. But with the party’s likeliest standard-bearers practically swearing in blood not to fiddle with the popular programs, it’s not clear how any of these proposals would ever become law.
Could Republicans force President Biden to accept cuts? That seems far-fetched. The GOP just spent the entire debt ceiling fight promising that they would absolutely not touch Social Security, after all.
And while the vast majority of the Republicans who back them come from safe red districts, these kinds of proposals can still tarnish the party’s national image among seniors.
Voting for them can still come back to haunt members, too. As a congressman, DeSantis backed a number of essentially symbolic budget resolutions put forward by the RSC that sliced entitlements. Now those votes have become attack fodder for Trump.
Even some Republican entitlement reform advocates are blanching at the RSC’s effort.
“I think we’re wiser to talk about a process of a bipartisan nature,” Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah told Semafor, adding he’d released legislation with Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia to establish bicameral panels tasked with finding ways to bolster the dwindling Medicare and Social Security trust funds. He argued that was a more viable route rather than Republicans releasing a party-line document that’s “easy to attack.”
Will the RSC’s proposal actually get a vote?
Hern thinks yes: He’s expecting the sprawling plan to reach the House floor as an amendment to the GOP’s so-far unfinished budget resolution. If the party fails to produce one, talks are underway to find another way to vote on the RSC plan, per a House GOP aide familiar with the situation.
Republicans appear determined to take this messaging vote, even if much of the public hates the message.
Room for Disagreement
Other key Republicans insist these measures are less extreme than Democrats have suggested. They point out Biden lacks a Social Security solvency plan of his own.
“These are not unusual proposals. Every bipartisan commission that looks at strengthening either Social Security or Medicare raises the importance of these issues,” Rep. Dusty Johnson of South Dakota told Semafor. “We have an actuarial time bomb.”