Two high-profile senators and former presidential candidates — Vermont’s Bernie Sanders and South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham — met for a debate in Boston over the weekend, and as Politico noted, the Republican brought up a point that raised a few eyebrows.
If Republicans regain control of the Senate following the midterms, the current Senate Budget ranking member is laying the groundwork: “Entitlement reform is a must for us to not become Greece.” He said he’s open to tweaking the income cap and eligibility age for programs — and wants to bring in a bipartisan group to study the problems.
Graham’s comments were, of course, captured on camera, and it’s likely voters will be seeing them again in the coming months. That’s because Democrats are eager to tell the public that Republicans want to cut Social Security and Medicare, and every time a senator makes comments like these, it makes the task a little easier.
But that’s not the only angle of interest.
First, it’s worth emphasizing that the idea that policymakers “must” cut Social Security and Medicare to prevent the United States from becoming Greece is plainly wrong. As readers who’ve been with me for many years know, this argument has never made any sense.
After the Greek debt crisis 12 years ago, the country had extremely high interest rates and struggled to find foreign loans. The United States, in contrast, still has low interest rates and foreign investors are happy to loan us money. Greece is part of a continental currency. The United States, in contrast, has its own currency. Greece’s credit rating collapsed. The United States’ credit rating is fine. Greece has a small economy. The United States has the world’s largest economy.
The differences are dramatic, as the ranking member on the Senate Budget Committee really ought to know.
But I’m also struck by the familiarity of the South Carolinian’s rhetoric. Way back in July 2011, for example, Graham demanded unspecified spending “reforms” that he said were necessary “to ensure we do not become Greece.” It quickly became a staple of the Republican’s vision.
In December 2012, Graham insisted that policymakers agree to “structural reforms” to Medicare and Social Security in order to “prevent our country from becoming Greece.” In August 2013, Graham added, “What’s calamitous is the track we’re on as a nation, we’re becoming Greece.”
When Donald Trump became president, however, the talking point mysteriously disappeared from Graham’s rhetorical quiver — even as the Republican administration racked up massive deficits and added trillions of dollars to the national debt. Indeed, Graham personally voted for massive tax breaks for the wealthy and large corporations, as well as robust Covid-response spending, wholly indifferent to the fiscal considerations.
For reasons the South Carolinian didn’t explain, he seemed to simply forget about the concern altogether while his party controlled the White House, even as the problem he claimed to be worried about grew considerably worse.
And wouldn’t you know it — by sheer coincidence, I’m sure — Graham was reminded anew about his Greece-related fears soon after Joe Biden became president. For example, earlier this year, after keeping the talking point on a shelf for roughly half a decade, Graham declared, “We’re going to become Greece as a nation if we don’t turn this around. It’s going to require compromise on Medicare and Social Security.”
All of which helped set the stage for this past weekend, when Graham repeated himself once again.
If the GOP senator expects people to take these arguments seriously, he’s going to be disappointed.