by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Pledges from House and Senate GOP leaders not to touch Social Security and Medicare as they gear up for a budget showdown with President Joe Biden have put the party in a difficult position.
Throughout the years, Republicans have said entitlement programs need reforms to be financially sustainable, but now they are internally divided over whether now is the right time to propose restructuring the safety net programs that have long been considered a political third rail, and many have tried to distance themselves from past proposals to privatize Medicare and Social Security. Biden, meanwhile, has capitalized on painting Republicans as the party that intends to slash benefits.
“Social Security and Medicare are cornerstones of American retirement planning, but President Biden’s own trustees have warned that the programs will face funding shortfalls by 2034,” Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) said in a statement to the Washington Examiner. “Congress needs to have an honest bipartisan discussion about how we can prevent automatic benefit reductions for existing retirees and provide workers and future beneficiaries with certainty.”
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) has said Republicans are committed to strengthening entitlement programs but has remained vague over how that would be achieved, claiming that cuts to Medicare and Social Security are off the table as the House GOP majority negotiates with Biden over raising the debt ceiling.
Many Republicans favor adjusting the old-age entitlement programs, especially by keeping benefits unaltered for current beneficiaries but changing them for the future.
The Republican Study Committee, the GOP’s largest caucus, last year proposed raising the age of eligibility to 67 from 65 for Medicare, which would align with the full retirement age for Social Security, as well as moving to a “premium support” model for financing benefits — meaning seniors would receive subsidies from the government that they could apply to a private plan or to a plan meant to provide traditional Medicare benefits.