Will Social Security survive the midterms?

Published in RINewsToday on October 31, 2022

With the midterm elections just a week away, the sputtering economy and inflation top the public’s agenda. If voters hold President Joe Biden and Democratic lawmakers accountable for these concerns, voting for Republican candidates might just give control of Congress to the GOP.  By controlling the legislative agenda of both chambers, the GOP could drastically impact the future of Social Security and Medicare, warns the Washington, DC-based Center for American Progress (CAP), a public policy research and advocacy organization.   

House Minority leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) signaled on Oct. 18 during a Punchbowl News interview that the GOP would use next year’s debt limit threat as a bargaining chip to force spending cuts to entitlement programs including Social Security and Medicare, warns CAP, sounding the alarm in an Oct. 21st website article.

CAP’s article reported that McCarthy’s statement reveals how he might use the upcoming debt-limit debates next Congress to make cuts in entitlement programs if he takes control of the House’s legislative agenda next Congress. “You can’t just continue down the path to keep spending and adding to the debt.  And if people want to make a debt ceiling {for a longer period of time}, just like anything else, there comes a point in time where, okay, we’ll provide you more money, but you got to change your current behavior.” When pressed on whether the GOP would seek cuts to entitlement programs in a debt ceiling fight, the House Minority Leader refused to take Social Security and Medicare cuts off the table, saying “he wouldn’t predetermine anything,” he said.

Over the past ten months some Republican lawmakers have transparently outlined their plans to change the entitlement programs, noted CAP, detailing these examples:  

Nearly 75% called for slashing and privatizing Social Security, raising the retirement age to 70, and ending Medicare as we know it as part of the Republican Study Committee FY 2023 budget, says CAP.  

According to CAP, statements made by two Republican Senators might gain traction in a GOP controlled Congress.  Specifically, Rick Scott (R-FL), Chair of the National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, might gain support for his “Rescue America” plan, that would sunset Social Security and Medicare after five years, and recreate it every five years.

Over four months ago, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), a key Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, promised “entitlement reform is a must for us to not become Greece” if the Republicans control the upper chamber,” noted CAP. 

CAP also noted that Republican Senate and House candidates in hotly contested races also called for changes to Social Security and Medicare and prescription drug reforms that lower drug costs for seniors. 

Added CAP, “Forty seven percent of Republican candidates for U.S. House running in toss-up districts, according to the Cook Political Report, actively support ending Social Security or Medicare as we know it.”

House and Senate Republicans are calling for the repeal of the recently enacted Medicare drug reforms. “In a Sept. 2022 story in Axios, several House Republicans called for repealing the prescription drug reforms included in the [recently enacted] Inflation Reduction Act.  Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX), the ranking member of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, saying, “I would image that will be a top priority for Republicans in the new [Congress],” says CAP.

Even before the dust settles after the upcoming midterm elections, Republican Senators have sponsored legislation to eliminate Medicare prescription reforms, says CAP.  “Senate Republicans Marco Rubio (R-FL), Mike Lee (R-UT), Cynthia Lummis (R-WY), and James Lankford (R_OK) have sponsored legislation to repeal the Inflation Reduction Act’s prescription drug provisions, including the creation of a $2,000 out-of-pock cap on prescription drug spending for Medicare Beneficiaries; a crackdown on drug companies that increase drug prices in the Medicare program faster than inflation; and empowering Medicare to negotiate for lower prescription drug prices,” notes the web article.  

Can Rhode Island’s new congressman stand up to House GOP leadership?

Throughout the CD2 campaign, RI General Treasurer Seth Magaziner has tried to tie former Mayor Allan Fung to the GOP agenda to cut Social Security and Medicare.  Fung has called his Democratic opponent “a liar,” stating that his own mother relies on her Social Security check. During his debates, the GOP candidate says,  “Do you think I would ever do anything to hurt my own mother?” he says.

Fung calls for bipartisan support to strengthen Social Security – like “Scrapping the Cap” that will tax persons at higher incomes, and for the expansion of coverage for dental work, vision care, and hearing aids.  

Fung also distances himself from the far-right Republicans by consistently saying he has a long history of being a political moderate and taking a balanced approach and working across the aisle to get things done. He pledges to co-sponsor bipartisan legislation.

While Fung stays razor focused on tying Magaziner, President Biden and Congressional Democrats to causing high inflation rates and a sputtering economy, Magaziner says don’t forget about Social Security and Medicare.

In an interview with Politico Fung said, “I’ve always been that middle-of-the-road, common sense-type person. They’re talking like, ‘Oh, there’s this radical Republican.’ That’s not me.”

Politico continues, “Fung is among a small cadre of centrists looking to revive the mantle of New England Republican in the House. They’re largely running away from Trump and social conservatism, hitting their Democratic opponents on record-high prices and betting that inflation worries over everything from home heating oil to fertilizer will resonate in the region’s mix of tiny blue-collar cities, wealthy suburbs and family farms.”

Fung talks frequently about his intent, if elected to be involved in the “Problem Solvers Caucus”,  an independent member-driven group in Congress, comprised of representatives from across the country – equally divided between Democrats and Republicans – committed to finding common ground on many of the key issues facing the nation. He hopes to have a leadership role in this group, bringing a more moderate Republican influence to Congress.

As a moderate freshman congressman, can Fung be a strong voice to the GOP leadership against any proposal that would make cuts to Social Security and Medicare?  As a moderate freshman congressman, can Magaziner be a strong voice to the Democratic leadership?

It’s clear that after a Congressman (Langevin) with considerable years of clout in congress, both candidates will have a path in front of them to create their own influence and strength.

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