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Republicans still trying to starve the beast

Programs in the crosshairs are typically popular with older voters

Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, is one of the more prominent House Republicans.
Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, is one of the more prominent House Republicans. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The GOP, which didn’t have much trouble supporting deep tax cuts during the presidency of Donald Trump, is now worried about the federal deficit. Republicans’ answer, once again, is to cut domestic spending. 

After that, they’ll propose more tax cuts, which will make the federal deficit and debt even larger, which will require — you guessed it — further cuts in domestic spending.

Republicans never look for additional revenue. And they really don’t care how tax cuts will impact the overall economy. The Trump tax cuts were enacted during a period of solid economic growth, not during a recession, when additional government spending can be necessary to jump-start the economy.

No, the GOP is always looking for opportunities to cut spending because cutting spending means shrinking government, which is really the goal of many Republicans in the first place. It’s the “starve the beast” strategy that conservatives have long pursued.

The problem for Republicans is that many Americans like some of the things that the government does. Others, who whine about domestic spending, understand that some government programs are simply necessary given the vagaries of life.

Yes, “waste, fraud and abuse” happen, and one of the responsibilities of government is to find them, expose them and take steps to eliminate them. But let’s not act as if that’s most of what today’s Republicans want to do.

They want to cut domestic spending whether or not there is waste. And now, with the debt ceiling needing to be raised, The Washington Post notes that Republicans “have rallied around firm pledges for austerity.”

“So far,” continued the Post, “the party has focused its attention on slimming down federal health care, education, science and labor programs, perhaps by billions of dollars. But some Republicans also have pitched a deeper examination of entitlements, which account for much of the government’s annual spending.” 

Entitlements. Yes, it always gets back to cutting entitlements, because that’s where the money — and the federal government — are.

But some Republicans (from former President Trump to Speaker Kevin McCarthy) realize that addressing Social Security and Medicare spending means raising the retirement age or cutting benefits, and that scares many older Americans.

Even if politicians promise repeatedly that people already receiving benefits or approaching retirement age won’t be affected, many Americans won’t believe them. 

The problem for the GOP is that there are enough conservative politicians and talking heads who want to discuss domestic spending cuts that Democrats won’t have any trouble keeping the issue alive. 

As Republican Study Committee leader Kevin Hern of Oklahoma said in the Post piece, “Everybody has to look at everything.” And in this case, “everybody” includes Reps. Ralph Norman of South Carolina, Thomas Massie of Kentucky, Ohio’s Jim Jordan, Lauren Boebert of Colorado, Bob Good of Virginia, Florida’s Matt Gaetz, Arizona’s Andy Biggs and Paul Gosar, and dozens of other attention-seekers. 

It also includes Florida Sen. Rick Scott, who, as NBC noted, thought it wise to propose “sunsetting all federally funded programs in five years, which would mean ending Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act.”

Republican leaders and strategists complain that lawmakers like Massie, Gosar and Scott, who chaired the National Republican Senatorial Committee last year, don’t speak for the whole party, and those same leaders promise profusely that Social Security and Medicare won’t be touched for those nearing retirement age. 

But in politics as well as life, what goes around comes around. It was the Republicans who painted the Democratic Party as favoring “defunding the police” even though few prominent Democrats supported that radical measure.

That didn’t matter to the GOP. They found a wedge issue and hammered it home — even if Republican lawmakers, strategists and talking heads knew that Democratic leaders didn’t favor “defunding” the police.

Now, Democrats will have the opportunity to paint the entire Republican Party as supporting cuts in Social Security and Medicare. 

Those cuts could be politically sensitive since older Americans — those who have reached retirement age or are approaching it — are likely to be the most upset about any changes to those two programs. 

Older voters have preferred the Republicans of late, so anything that Democrats can do to undermine the GOP among older voters could have an important impact on the 2024 elections. (The 2020 national exit poll found Trump winning a majority of voters ages 50 and older, while Biden carried all age categories from 18 to 49.)

Jordan, who chairs the Judiciary Committee in the House, was asked by Chuck Todd on “Meet the Press” on Sunday what the federal government might do to respond to the growing number of mass shootings in this country. He had no answer, because he doesn’t believe the federal government has a role. 

Maybe that’s a winning argument these days. Maybe Americans don’t want Social Security and Medicare. Maybe they don’t care about bridges, tunnels and the power grid. Maybe they don’t care about malnutrition, poverty, the environment (including clean water) and health care.

Or maybe they do care about those things. It’s probably time for Democrats to take the fight on entitlements and domestic spending to the GOP.

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