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Let’s not ‘restructure’ Social Security and Medicare to pay for tax cuts

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Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) just spilled one of the worst-kept “dirty little secrets” in Washington: The GOP plans to cut Social Security and Medicare to help close the federal budget deficit, which is about to be engorged by at least $1 trillion thanks to tax cuts for billionaires and big corporations

In an interview with Politico, Rubio said, “We need to generate economic growth which generates revenue, while reducing spending. That will mean instituting structural changes to Social Security and Medicare for the future.” Of course, by “structural changes,” he really means cutting benefits. 

{mosads}These remarks are consistent with what Senator Rubio has advocated since well before his failed 2016 presidential bid. In a 2014 speech to the National Press Club, he proposed raising the Social Security retirement age (which is itself a massive benefit cut) and endorsed Speaker Paul Ryan’s plan to convert Medicare to a voucher program.


What’s new about Rubio’s admission to Politico is that he is the first Republican leader to openly acknowledge that Social Security and Medicare will be put on the chopping block after GOP tax cuts are enacted. But he has lots of like-minded company.

The GOP’s 2018 budget resolution calls for $500 billion in Medicare cuts, largely by adopting Speaker Ryan’s privatization scheme. To add insult to injury, unless Congress waives the PAYGO (or Pay-as-You-go) provision in federal budget law, the tax bill will trigger an immediate $25 billion cut to Medicare, which could negatively impact care for millions of seniors. 

Rubio’s pronouncements also lay bare the phoniness of candidate Trump’s promises “not to touch” Social Security and Medicare. By proffering the Trump/GOP tax plan, the President embraced the inevitable efforts to slash both programs to close the deficit. What’s more, the President’s own 2018 budget blueprint called for more than $60 billion in cuts to Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). Perhaps this is why we don’t see President Trump shooting down Senator Rubio’s comments to Politico.

 We can now safely say that seniors should take Republican’s word for it: Congress will be coming for their earned benefits after showering the wealthy and multinational corporations with trillions of dollars in tax breaks. Of course, Rubio insists that today’s seniors they have nothing to worry about. 

“We still have time to… structure these programs… in a way that doesn’t impact current retirees or people about to retire, but in a way that would probably impact it for me and people younger than me,” he told Politico. This is the time honored conservative tactic of trying to divide and conquer the generations. So far, it hasn’t worked. Public opinion polling indicates strong support for traditional Social Security and Medicare across all age groups. It may also come as a shock to Senator Rubio that seniors not only care about their own retirement and health security, but their children and grandchildren’s, too.

Sen. Rubio and his colleagues justify restructuring Social Security and Medicare by claiming that, given enough warning, younger adults will have plenty of time to save for retirement. They simply won’t need to rely on their earned benefits as much. But that logic flies in the face of financial reality. Nearly half of all Americans have no retirement savings whatsoever, and many who have managed to save for their senior years are running out of money during retirement.

With middle class wages forecast to remain stagnant for the foreseeable future — and medical and housing costs rising — it will be impossible for most younger Americans to save enough for retirement to make up for cuts in their earned benefits.

Of course, budget hawks insist they must cut Social Security and Medicare because they are “drivers of the debt.” The truth is that Social Security and Medicare Part A are entirely self-funded by workers’ payroll contributions. 

They do not contribute to the deficit and shouldn’t be raided to fix it. Senator Rubio argues that these programs are heading toward “insolvency” or “going bankrupt” — another falsehood. The Trust Funds for Social Security and Medicare Part A will be depleted within two decades if Congress takes no action to bolster them, though they could still pay 77 percent and 88 percent of benefits respectively. 

Republicans talk of cutting and privatizing as the only financial solutions. But Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Rep. John Larson (D-Conn.), and others have offered legislation that would keep Social Security solvent for most of the rest of this century while actually increasing benefits. Medicare could be put on a sounder financial footing by finely controlling the soaring prices of prescription drugs and implementing other cost-saving measures in the provision of care – which the Affordable Care Act set in motion.

In his 2014 speech to the Press Club, Senator Rubio said, “I have no doubt that my suggestions here today will be used against me to try to convince seniors that I will change the benefits they worked so hard for and paid into all those years.” 

Yes, Senator, voters will hold you responsible when you pursue an agenda which inflicts financial hardship on older Americans. For more than 80 years and 50 years respectively, working people have paid into Social Security and Medicare with the understanding they will collect sufficient benefits for baseline financial security and quality health care when they retire. We must not allow Rubio and his fellow opponents of these programs to break that compact with the American people.

Max Richtman is president and CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, a membership organization which promotes the financial security, health, and well being of current and future generations of maturing Americans.

Tags Bernie Sanders John Larson Marco Rubio Medicare Paul Ryan Social Security

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