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Conservatives’ budget plan renews battle over seniors’ benefits

Republican Study Committee plan is likely to become 2024 campaign fodder

Reps. Jodey C. Arrington, right, and Kevin Hern leave a meeting of the House Republican Conference at the Capitol Hill Club on Feb. 28.
Reps. Jodey C. Arrington, right, and Kevin Hern leave a meeting of the House Republican Conference at the Capitol Hill Club on Feb. 28. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The largest bloc of House conservatives offered up a fiscal blueprint Wednesday that promises to balance the federal budget in seven years, make GOP tax cuts permanent, and slash domestic spending.

The plan offered by the 175-member Republican Study Committee would gradually raise the age at which future retirees can start claiming full Social Security benefits from 67 to 69, a politically fraught proposal that’s all but certain to appear in Democratic campaign ads.

The document also proposes a “premium support” plan that would subsidize private insurance options that compete with traditional Medicare. That would be similar to budget plans proposed by Rep. Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., during his tenure in Congress that were panned by Democrats and some Republicans, including former President Donald Trump.

While House Republicans have yet to produce a fiscal 2024 budget resolution, the RSC blueprint offers a wish list of conservative priorities that could influence the appropriations process. Chairman Kevin Hern of Oklahoma said House leadership has promised his plan would get a floor vote.

“The RSC budget would implement common-sense policies to prevent the impending debt disaster, tame inflation, grow the economy, protect our national security, and defund [President Joe] Biden’s woke priorities,” said Virginia Rep. Ben Cline, chairman of the group’s Budget and Spending Task Force.

It could also force an uncomfortable vote for moderate Republicans in swing districts. The budget calls for slashing total spending by $16.3 trillion over a decade, compared to baseline projections, including $5 trillion from discretionary funds appropriated by Congress, while gradually raising the Social Security retirement age for those not facing imminent retirement.

“Budget Committee Democrats will make sure every American family knows that House Republicans want to force Americans to work longer for less, raise families’ costs, weaken our nation, and shrink our economy — all while wasting billions of dollars on more favors to special interests and handouts to the ultra-wealthy,” said Pennsylvania Rep. Brendan F. Boyle, the Budget Committee’s top Democrat, in a statement.

While defense spending would be allowed to grow modestly, nondefense spending would gradually shrink over the decade, though both categories of spending would decline as a share of the economy.

Base budget authority for defense would grow from $886 billion fiscal 2024, a 3 percent increase over the current fiscal year, to $969 billion in fiscal 2033. But nondefense budget authority would be slashed by about 30 percent next year to $522 billion, inching up very slightly to $553 billion in fiscal 2033. 

Social Security, Medicare

The plan also promises to shore up the solvency of Social Security and Medicare, though the budget document is light on details.

Cline said the group has proposed gradually raising the Social Security retirement age, but not for current retirees or those nearing retirement. He said those now aged 59 would see an increase in the retirement age of three months per year beginning in 2026. The retirement age would reach 69 for those who turn 62 in 2033.

While any financial fix will require a bipartisan compromise, Cline said, “We are taking action, whereas the White House and Democrats refuse to acknowledge that Social Security and Medicare are facing insolvency.”

Biden and congressional Democrats thus far have focused their efforts to reduce those two programs’ budget shortfalls by reining in Medicare prescription drug costs, and by raising Medicare and Social Security payroll taxes on high-income earners.

Social Security and Medicare finances are likely to be a major political football in the upcoming campaign, and featured prominently in this year’s early debate over the debt ceiling. Biden called out Republicans for aiming to gut seniors’ benefits in his State of the Union address; even before that, the GOP was saying the issue was off the table in deficit reduction talks.

Boyle, in his statement on Wednesday, said Republicans “are attempting to renege on our sacred promise to American workers and seniors by renewing their attacks on Social Security and Medicare.”

And White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre issued a statement saying the RSC budget “amounts to a devastating attack on Medicare, Social Security, and Americans’ access to health coverage and prescription drugs.”

Trump, who’s running for another term in 2024, has attacked competitor and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, for his past votes in favor of budget blueprints with options that could reduce Social Security and Medicare benefits.

Tax cuts

The budget plan also offers what its backers say would be a $5.1 trillion tax cut over 10 years. The largest piece, amounting to $2.48 trillion, would come from making permanent the individual tax cuts in the GOP’s 2017 tax code overhaul that are scheduled to expire after 2025.

The plan also calls for full and immediate expensing, accelerated depreciation for construction projects, indexing capital gains taxes to inflation, and more.

The blueprint is also stuffed with political talking points for conservatives eager to strike back against what they denounce as the “woke” priorities of the Biden administration.

It calls for ending funding for a “radical green agenda” aimed at combating climate change. It would eliminate funding for the Community Development Block Grant program, aimed at curbing poverty in low-income neighborhoods. It would eliminate funding for the National Endowment for the Arts and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

It would fund the completion of a southern border wall, while rescinding money for the IRS that Democrats provided last year to generate additional revenue by cracking down on tax dodgers.

“We challenge the Republican Party to bring this budget to the floor for a vote, and every Republican should support this,” said Virginia Rep. Bob Good, who is a member of both the Republican Study Committee and the hard-right Freedom Caucus.

“It’s the only effort that comprehensively addresses the financial challenges of this country,” said Arkansas Rep. French Hill, who sits on the House Financial Services Committee.

Despite the tax reductions, the spending cuts in the RSC plan would be large enough turn a $761 billion deficit in fiscal 2024 into a $72 billion surplus in fiscal 2030, which would grow to $320 billion in fiscal 2033.

House Budget Chairman Jodey C. Arrington, R-Texas, has promised that his committee would produce a fiscal 2024 budget resolution. But that effort was sidelined by congressional leaders as negotiations ramped up for a debt limit deal that included spending caps. Arrington has not said when a budget resolution would be produced.

“Our values are clearly on display with this budget,” said Hern, the RSC chairman. “We’re protecting life, we’re defending our border, we’re strengthening our military, we’re cutting taxes for working families, helping small businesses thrive, saving Medicare and Social Security for future generations, unleashing American energy production. And we’re just getting started.”

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