Social Security in the crosshairs, too

SOCIAL SECURITY IN THE CROSSHAIRS, TOO…. For those who keep up on the details, not all “entitlements” are created equal. When it comes to long-term financing, Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security are on very different footings, which makes it unhelpful when the political discourse lumps them together.

But right now, all of them have one very important thing in common: they’re targets of congressional Republicans.

We know the new House GOP budget plan intends to eliminate/privatize Medicare and gut Medicaid. What’s received less attention is the new initiative to go after Social Security, too. Suzy Khimm has this report:

On Wednesday morning, shortly before Obama’s big deficit speech, three Republican senators unveiled a plan to cut $6.2 trillion by paring back Social Security over the next two decades. Under a proposal unveiled by Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Rand Paul (R-Ky.), and Mike Lee (R-Utah), the qualifying age for Social Security would rise from 67 to 70 by 2032, while benefits for everyone earning more than an average of $43,000 over their lifetime would be reduced.

Graham took pains to explain that he wasn’t pushing for privatization but also slammed any tax increases to shore up Social Security, saying such a move would “destroy America.” “It’s much better to give up benefits on the end side than pay taxes now,” he explained.

Currently, the Social Security payroll tax only applies to the first $107,000 a worker’s in income. As a result, the wealthiest earners pay the lowest percentage of their income — and that’s a dynamic Graham is apparently eager to protect. He’d much prefer to raise the retirement age (a move Democrats and the American mainstream oppose) and cut benefits (ditto).

I’d also note that Graham teaming up with arguably the Senate’s most outlandish extremists in this little endeavor is a reminder that (a) reports of his moderation have been greatly exaggerated; and (b) the South Carolinian is probably more worried about a primary challenge than he’s let on.

As for the Social Security plan itself, some right-wing House members have already said they like what they see in the Graham/Paul/Lee plan, and intend to pursue a companion measure in the lower chamber.

Khimm added, “Republicans are taking a big political risk by going after Medicare. Adding Social Security to the mix could put them on even more difficult footing, as George W. Bush’s failed effort at privatizing the program demonstrated. But having already pushed the parameters of the debate so far to the right, they’ve opened the door to going even further.”

The right-wing agenda targeting entitlement programs isn’t going to moderate in the coming months; it’s going to get worse.

This almost certainly isn’t what voters signed up for last year, and it’s bound to create some fascinating tests by Election Day 2012.