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McCarthy tamps down concerns over linking Social Security, Medicare reforms to debt ceiling

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) sought to tamp down worries that a GOP majority would use raising the federal debt ceiling as leverage to secure reforms on entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare after a comment of his spurred Democratic attacks.

“I never mentioned Social Security or Medicare. Actually, in the ‘Commitment to America,’ we say to strengthen Social Security and Medicare,” McCarthy said on CNBC Wednesday morning.

“The question was, would you just raise the debt ceiling without having a discussion — not about entitlements — but about our spending behavior right now? And my question would be, we have to change our behavior. We can’t continue down this path.”

McCarthy, who is hoping to be Speaker if Republicans take control of the House, told Punchbowl News in an interview published Tuesday that Republicans would try to get concessions on spending cuts in exchange for raising the debt limit, a must-pass measure in order to avoid economic turmoil.

Asked if he would try to reform entitlement spending as part of a debt ceiling debate, McCarthy said he would not “predetermine” anything.

The question came as a follow-up to reporting by Bloomberg that some House Republicans suggested reforms to entitlement programs, such as means-testing benefits for Social Security and Medicare, could be on the table in a debt limit debate.

Democrats quickly blasted McCarthy’s remark, with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) press office saying it was confirmation of GOP “plans to hold the debt limit hostage to force through their extreme plans to slash Medicare and Social Security.” 

“The debt ceiling needs to be raised, but I also know I’m going to strengthen Social Security, Medicare. I never brought them up. That is where the Democrats continue to try to put something else out there,” McCarthy said on CNBC.

Democrats have also pointed to a model federal budget released this year by the Republican Study Committee, the largest conservative caucus in the House that includes the vast majority of the House Republican Conference, that would gradually raise the Social Security eligibility age.

It also encourages lawmakers to consider legislative options that “allow employers and employees to reduce their payroll tax liability and use those savings to invest in private retirement options.”

House Republicans’ Commitment to America midterm policy and messaging plan, released last month and spearheaded by McCarthy, includes a single line saying that Republicans would “save and strengthen Social Security and Medicare.”

Tags CNBC debt ceiling entitlements House Republicans Kevin McCarthy Kevin McCarthy medicare Nancy Pelosi social security

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