It looks like Republicans will be getting their tax cuts, and while they may not be the true tax “reform” many conservatives wanted, they’re generally being accepted as a step in the right direction. One of the biggest challenges to the cuts, the portion that made retiring Senator Bob Corker the lone GOP dissenter, is that it will balloon the debt and increase deficits. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan indicated they will be addressing the biggest contributor to deficits by going after entitlements next year.
This has been a topic the GOP has avoided since Trump won the election. He ran on promises to keep entitlements where they are, helping him win the Republican nomination and the presidency itself by appealing to recipients of Medicare, Medicaid or Social Security. The Speaker says he’s making progress in private talks with the President to open him up to the potential to break that particular promise.
“I think the president is understanding choice and competition works everywhere, especially in Medicare,” Ryan said.
Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill are now starting to echo the narrative they’d been embracing before Trump won. Now that tax cuts are on the verge of becoming a reality, they’ll need to address ways to pay for those cuts. The easiest way to do it is to slash entitlements, but the hard part will be selling the idea to constituents ahead of the 2018 election. There are already fears of losing majorities in both the House and Senate following legislative failures and presidential gaffes. Going after entitlements now could doom them in the midterm elections if they’re unable to make a compelling case.
The biggest weakness of the GOP is selling their ideas. They are good at opposition to Democratic ideas and rode the backlash against Obamacare to win the House in 2010, Senate in 2014, and White House in 2016. To keep them, they’ll need to make people understand the benefits of cutting spending. Then, they’ll need to sell them on the reality that entitlements are the best (and perhaps only) way to make budget cuts happen.
The only good news for them is that the largest emerging voting block, millennials, may be the key to selling entitlement reform. If they can demonstrate two things: the need to embrace a federalist approach to welfare as they’re doing with food stamps and the fiscal risks they’ll put us all in if they don’t reform entitlements, they have an opportunity to get millennials on board. If they don’t do these two things, entitlement reform may be the election dagger if they pass it or the reason Democrats will give to vote for them if they don’t pass it. By putting it on the table, they have to win the messaging game or they’re toast whether they pass it or not.
Health-care entitlements such as Medicare and Medicaid “are the big drivers of debt,” Ryan said, “so we spend more time on the health-care entitlements, because that’s really where the problem lies, fiscally speaking.”
Ryan said he’s been speaking privately with President Trump, who is beginning to warm to the idea of slowing the spending growth in entitlements.