Restive GOP freshmen eye entitlement reform

Senate Republican frustrated with Washington’s spending are pushing for dramatic reforms.

The calls are coming from freshmen GOP senators stunned that only one appropriations bill was sent to President Obama’s desk.

{mosads}The most ambitious proposal is from Sen. David Perdue  (R-Ga.), a former CEO of Dollar General and Reebok, who is appalled by Congress’s ability to meet deadlines or make any meaningful progress toward entitlement reform.

Perdue says Congress should consider taking Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid — the country’s three biggest mandatory spending programs — off of autopilot and empowering lawmakers to reauthorize their spending levels on an annual or biennial basis.

His plan would change the Senate’s internal rules so colleagues are required to carefully look at mandatory spending on a regular basis.

“I got pulled into the Senate race because I don’t like that the debt is out of control,” he told reporters summoned to this office Thursday to review a new white paper he has circulated among Senate GOP freshmen.

In addition, Perdue and other freshmen are talking about creating four annual or biennial spending bills that would set not only discretionary spending levels but also spending levels for Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

“Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid need to be included,” Perdue said.

The move is not without risks.

Democrats have pummeled Republican candidates in past elections for proposing changes to Social Security and Medicare and even the GOP’s nominee for president, Donald Trump, has ruled out changes to eligibility requirements for safety-net programs.

“I will do everything within my power not to touch Social Security, to leave it the way it is, Trump declared at a Republican debate in March.

But as Perdue and other Senate Republican freshman see it, Congress has been unable to even get to a serious discussion about entitlement reform because the big-ticket programs are sequestered from the annual appropriations bills.

One of the four biennial bills proposed by Perdue would be devoted to national security and include defense, military construction, veterans’ affairs and foreign relations, costing about $850 billion.

The second, costing $1 trillion, would include Medicare, Medicaid and all health-related domestic programs.

The third, also at $1 trillion, would cover federal spending, discretionary and mandatory on retirement programs, including the federal employee retirement and Social Security.

The fourth would catch spending programs not included in the first three. Its price tag would also be $1 trillion.

If lawmakers failed to reach agreement and the bills stalled, funding for government programs would continue but lawmakers would be penalized with a steep reduction to their paychecks.  

Perdue emphasized that his proposal is the outgrowth of months of discussions with fellow freshmen as well as with McConnell, Senate Budget Committee Chairman Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) and House Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price (R-Ga.).

“This is not a rogue effort, this is playing within the lines,” Perdue said.

Freshmen Republicans are calling on their leaders to get on board, even though Trump has steered clear of talk about reforming Social Security and Medicare.

“A lot of us ran for office – a lot of us for the first time – because we saw what is going on with this budget process,” Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) said on the floor Wednesday. “We have all been working on this for months.

Republican pollster Whit Ayres says that despite the long-held conventional wisdom, it’s not suicide to talk about entitlement reform right before an election. But he cautioned senators to proceed cautiously.

“Here’s what voters want to see: A healthy and thriving Social Security and Medicare system,” Ayres said. “If Social Security and Medicare are going to be jeopardized without any changes, then voters will support changes.”

But he warned that entitlement reforms have to be framed as proposals to extend the solvency of Social Security and Medicare and not primarily as a strategy to balance the budget. 

“The Democrats then come along and say we should not balance the budgets on the backs of our seniors and they win the argument,” he added. “But it’s very effective to argue that we have to reform our entitlement programs to preserve and protect those programs for current and future generations.”

Tags Budget Donald Trump Medicaid Medicare Mike Enzi Social Security
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