Mitch McConnell’s call to cut Medicare, Social Security, and Medicaid also perfectly laid out why it won’t happen anytime soon

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell Bill Pugliano/Getty Images
  • Senate Majority Mitch McConnell said both parties should sign on to entitlement reforms to help get the deficit under control.
  • McConnell said any deal to reform entitlements like Social Security and Medicare would have to be bipartisan.
  • There’s no way Democrats are getting on board with entitlement changes.

Senate Majority Mitch McConnell on Tuesday advanced a longtime Republican policy goal on how to tackle the debt during an interview Tuesday, but the idea probably won’t gain a foothold anytime soon.

During an interview with Bloomberg on Tuesday, McConnell said that to get the federal budget deficit under control – the deficit grew to $US779 billion in fiscal year 2018, the largest since 2012 – Congress needs to reform entitlements such as Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security.

Despite an appetite for reforms and full control of the federal government, Republicans have made no headway on entitlement reform during Trump’s presidency.

“I think it’s pretty safe to say that entitlement changes, which is the real driver of the debt by any objective standard, may well be difficult if not impossible to achieve when you have unified government,” McConnell told Bloomberg.

But the GOP leader also laid out exactly why his solution to the deficit and debt would not happen anytime soon: There’s no way Democrats are getting on board.

McConnell emphasised that any significant changes to Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security would need to get sign off from both parties.

“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,” McConnell said.

But cooperation in Congress is at a historically low level. Bitter partisan battles like the recent confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh have seen the overall number of bills passed take a serious dive over the past few years.

Democrats have been reluctant to help advance any major goals of the GOP-led federal government, and Democratic leaders immediately blasted McConnell’s idea.

“In budget after budget, Congressional Republicans have exposed their cynical agenda: give massive, unpaid-for handouts to further enrich big corporations shipping jobs overseas and the wealthiest 1 per cent, and stick seniors, children and families with the bill,” House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said. “Under the GOP’s twisted agenda, we can afford tax cuts for billionaires, but not the benefits our seniors have earned.”

Additionally, Democratic policies are also heading in the opposition direction of McConnell’s goals.

Instead of pairing tax cuts with entitlements cuts, Democrats are suggesting these programs become even more generous and paired with tax increases. As McConnell mentioned in the Bloomberg interview, a growing number of Democrats are supporting Sen. Bernie Sanders’ “Medicare for All” plan, which would expand the government healthcare program to all Americans with funding from a tax bump.

Going it alone might be possible using budget reconciliation if Republicans maintain control of both chambers of Congress, which is unlikely based on recent forecasts. But even then, it could some at a political price, as it would give Democrats an easy way to hammer the GOP in 2020.

There is widespread opposition to spending reductions for entitlements according to polling:

  • A May 2017 poll from the Pew Research Center found just 15% of Republican and 5% of Democrats supported a reduction in Medicare spending, while just 10% of Republicans and 3% of Democrats want to see a reduction in Social Security funding.
  • An April 2017 poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation found 40% of people want an increase in spending on Medicaid compared to just 12% who want a decrease. On the other hand, 57% of people wanted more Medicare spending while just 6% wanted a cut.

Entitlement cuts can be politically potent for the opposition. For instance, Republicans attacked Democrats for years over supposed cuts to Medicare benefits as part of the Affordable Care Act. While the claim was misleading, it proved to be a popular and powerful attack.

On top of the opposition from Democrats, it’s unclear if Republicans could get their entire party on board with the idea – especially their leader. President Donald Trump has repeatedly promised to not cut Social Security and Medicaid before, and reiterated a similar position during an interview with The Associated Press on Tuesday.

“I haven’t heard that,” Trump said when asked about McConnell’s interview. “I’m leaving Social Security. I’m not touching Social Security.”

Last year, a Republican member of Congress told Business Insider’s Joe Perticone that Trump told him he wouldn’t consider changes to entitlement programs until a theoretical second term.