Paul Ryan is pretty chuffed about the trillion-dollar hole the GOP tax bill will blow in the federal budget over the next 10 years, so even though the bill hasn’t yet made it out of the conference committee, he’s already looking forward to the cuts America will absolutely have to make to Medicare, Medicaid, and — maybe — Social Security starting next year because we’ll have so much darn debt. In an interview on talk radio, the House speaker said it’s essential that we start chopping up the social safety net because we can’t afford the old or the poor to hold back America’s rich people anymore:
“We’re going to have to get back next year at entitlement reform, which is how you tackle the debt and the deficit,” Ryan said during an appearance on Ross Kaminsky’s talk radio show. “… Frankly, it’s the health care entitlements that are the big drivers of our debt, so we spend more time on the health care entitlements — because that’s really where the problem lies, fiscally speaking.”
Ryan also said he thinks he’s making progress in convincing Donald Trump to “rein in” Medicare, although he didn’t explicitly mention that Trump had promised during the campaign that — unlike other Republicans — he would never, ever cut Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid. Obviously, Trump’s willingness to flush Medicaid during the ACA repeal debate made the point that his campaign promises were lies, so apart from un-American journalists pointing out what Trump repeatedly said, no one really cares.
Ryan did at least acknowledge there was little chance of slashing Social Security, since Senate rules won’t let Congress make changes to that program through the reconciliation process that was used to pass the tax cuts and to try to kill Obamacare. Nonetheless, Marco Rubio has already said Social Security should go on the chopping block as well as Medicare, as long as it’s only slashed for people who aren’t yet retired and receiving benefits.
Ryan also signaled that when he says “reform,” he’s really talking about some kind of Medicare privatization scheme, possibly through block grants:
frat boy at a keg stand in college. These are truly exciting days for Republicans, who are certain they can do all sorts of things the majority of Americans don’t want done, because isn’t that what a mandate means?
“I think the president is understanding that choice and competition works everywhere in health care, especially in Medicare,” Ryan said. “…This has been my big thing for many, many years. I think it’s the biggest entitlement we’ve got to reform.”
“What it is we really need to convert our health care system to a patient-centered system, so we have more choices and more competition. Choice and competition brings down prices and improves quality; government-run health care is the opposite of that,” Ryan said. “So I think these reforms that we’ve been talking about, that we’re still going to keep pushing, that will help not just make Medicaid less expensive … but it will help Medicare as well.”
Ryan seriously believes that Medicare and Medicaid don’t offer “choice and competition,” even though Medicare has fewer restrictions on which doctors a patient can see than private insurer networks do. True, fewer doctors take Medicaid patients because the reimbursements are lower, but Republican proposals to convert Medicaid into block grants are likely to make that problem worse, not better. But evidence doesn’t matter — the belief that dismantling Medicare and letting the market fix everything is every bit as much a matter of faith as the notion that cutting taxes on the wealthy will help everyone else.
Other Republicans are just as hot as Ryan and Rubio to start saving the nation from the damage their own tax bill will do; during debate on the tax plan, Bernie Sanders challenged Rubio and Pat Toomey to promise that the next Republican move would not be to go after Social Security and Medicare. Toomey said there was “no secret plan” to cut the programs, which was accurate enough because they’re planning it right out in the open — the cuts will simply hit those who haven’t yet reached retirement age:
“I am not going to support any cuts to people who are on the program and need those benefits. But I want this program to survive,” Toomey said. To which Sanders responded: “He just told you he’s going to cut Social Security.”
Remember when cuts to Social Security and Medicare were supposed to be the “third rail” of American politics, something Republicans couldn’t touch without getting electrocuted? They seem to think their huge tax cuts will turn the power off so they can fiddle around with those essential programs. We have a feeling that if they try it, they’ll get a very unwelcome jolt in the 2018 midterms.
Obviously, they’ll need to eliminate funding for public transit so no one uses that metaphor anymore.