Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) talks with reporters reporters after the weekly Senate Republican policy luncheon at the U.S. Capitol Aug. 4, 2015 in Washington, D.C.
Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty

McConnell eyes cuts to Medicare, Social Security to address deficit

Nearly a year ago, as the debate over Republican tax breaks for the wealthy was near its end, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) insisted that the tax cuts didn’t need to be paid for – because they’d pay for themselves.

“I not only don’t think it will increase the deficit, I think it will be beyond revenue neutral,” McConnell said in December 2017. “In other words, I think it will produce more than enough to fill that gap.”

Whether the GOP leader actually believed his own rhetoric is an open question, but either way, we now know the Kentucky senator’s claim was spectacularly wrong. The Republican tax breaks have, as Democrats and those familiar with arithmetic predicted, sent the nation’s budget deficit soaring.

Take a wild guess what McConnell told Bloomberg News he wants to do about it.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday blamed rising federal deficits and debt on a bipartisan unwillingness to contain spending on Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, and said he sees little chance of a major deficit reduction deal while Republicans control Congress and the White House.

“It’s disappointing but it’s not a Republican problem,” McConnell said in an interview with Bloomberg News when asked about the rising deficits and debt. “It’s a bipartisan problem: Unwillingness to address the real drivers of the debt by doing anything to adjust those programs to the demographics of America in the future.”

He added that he believes “Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid” funding constitutes “the real driver of the debt.”

Before we get into the broader implications of McConnell’s argument, it’s important to understand that we already know it’s the Republicans’ tax breaks for the rich that have made the deficit vastly larger. When McConnell calls the increased federal borrowing “very disturbing,” as he did this morning, it’s like watching an arsonist wring his hands over the ashes he created.

The Senate GOP leader helped create this mess; he hasn’t earned the right to complain about it.

But these relevant details are really only part of the larger issue. During the debate over the Republican tax package, Democrats made a fairly obvious prediction: GOP policymakers would blow a giant hole in the budget and then use the shortfall as an excuse to target social-insurance programs like Medicare and Social Security (often referred to as “entitlements”).

That is, of course, exactly what’s happening.

Larry Kudlow, the director of the Trump White House’s National Economic Council, recently said he wants to take aim at “entitlements” as early as “next year.” A few months earlier, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said he wants to see policymakers bring the budget closer to balance by cutting “entitlements.” Rep. Steve Stivers (R-Ohio), who currently chairs the National Republican Congressional Committee, made the same argument in August.

And now Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is making the identical pitch.

The election season has ushered in a head-spinning debate over which party truly supports pillars of modern American life such as Medicare and Social Security. Donald Trump has repeatedly said, reality be damned, voters should look to Republicans as the champions of these programs.

“We’re saving Social Security; the Democrats will destroy Social Security,” the president inexplicably insisted last month. “We’re saving Medicare; the Democrats want to destroy Medicare.”

But looking past Trump’s bizarre nonsense, leading Republican officials – from the White House, the Senate, and the U.S. House – keep admitting that they’re eager to cut programs like Medicare and Social Security. Maybe the public should believe them.

Budget, Budget Policy, Entitlements, Medicare, Mitch McConnell and Social Security

McConnell eyes cuts to Medicare, Social Security to address deficit