Snared In the Safety Net

Now that a “grand bargain” wherein the president offers “cover” for the kind of Social Security and Medicare benefit cuts conservatives view as a first step towards privatizing and capping these programs is off the table, Republicans are in a bit of a quandary in putting together their pre-midterm 2014 budget proposals. TPM’s Sahil Kapur explains their dilemma quite well:

Republicans have launched a party-wide attack blitz against Democrats over payment cuts to private insurers under Medicare Advantage, which covers one-third of Medicare beneficiaries. The savings were enacted under Obamacare, then included in the Ryan budgets for each of the last three years. Nearly all Republicans voted for them….

Then there’s Social Security. Republican leaders have been attacking President Barack Obama for rescinding a provision in his budget to cut future benefits. “This reaffirms what has become all too apparent: the president has no interest in doing anything, even modest, to address our looming debt crisis,” said Brendan Buck, a spokesman for Speaker John Boehner (R-OH).

Notably, the provision — known as Chained CPI, which slows the rate of inflation for benefits — was not included in any of the GOP’s own budgets, which left Social Security untouched. But if it’s a mere modest step toward avoid a debt crisis, as they now say, Republicans would have a tough time justifying excluding it from their budget.

This contradiction reflects not only simple duplicity, but divisions of opinion in the GOP ranks, not only in Washington but everywhere:

It’s a lose-lose predicament that reflects the GOP’s competing interests on Medicare and Social Security. Their wealthy donors are eager to scale back these programs, but millions of their constituents benefit from them and voters broadly oppose any cuts. At the same time, Republicans often can’t resist using the specter of cuts as a political weapon.

They may just brazenly talk out of both sides of their mouths; that was the approach in 2012 when Mr. Medicare Voucher, Paul Ryan, posed as the brave young man who was basically running for vice president in order to protect his mother’s Medicare benefits from the mean old Democrats. But that still doesn’t answer the question of what goes into, say, the House Republican FY 2015 budget, which the self-same Mr. Ryan is presumably working on.

No wonder there’s talk in House Republican circles of just not doing a budget this year. But--d’oh!–that doesn’t square well with about a million hours of congressional GOP shrieking about the failure of Senate Democrats to enact a budget over a three-year period ending just last spring.

It will be fun to watch these lovers and haters of the social safety net try to get themselves untangled.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.