Mitch McConnell's unserious entitlement reform talk

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is giving lip service to entitlement reform. The Kentucky Republican told Bloomberg last week he had major concerns about the debt and deficit and believed cuts to entitlement programs were the best way to handle it.

It’s driven by the three big entitlement programs which are very popular: Medicare, Social Security, and Medicaid. That’s 70% of what we spend every year. The subject we were just discussing – the funding of the government – is about 30%. There’s been a bipartisan reluctance to tackle entitlement changes because of the popularity of those programs. Hopefully, at some point here, we’ll get serious about this. We haven’t been…yet.

McConnell’s comment elicited the typical reaction from Democrats.

Politico noted other Democrats were trying to use McConnell’s statement regarding entitlement programs as to why they needed to be sent – or kept – in D.C.

Democrats who experienced dips in the polls following Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court, including Manchin, believe McConnell’s remarks put them on firmer ground. Asked whether he was campaigning on his vote for Kavanaugh, Manchin replied: “No. But I’m asked that question all the time.” But is he defending health and entitlement programs as a core part of his campaign message? “Absolutely.”

Manchin is far from alone. It’s too early to say whether Democrats have time to cut ads on McConnell’s comments specifically, but the party has run paid advertisements on entitlements generally. And debate moderators are bringing up the GOP leader’s views on the debt and benefits programs with regularity, making them a prime focus of the closing stretch.

During a Friday night debate, Rep. Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.) accused Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) of trying to “balance our budgets on the backs of senior citizens.” In Missouri, the first question asked of Republican Senate candidate Josh Hawley at a debate on Thursday was his stance on cutting Medicare and Social Security. And at a North Dakota debate the same day, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) badgered GOP Rep. Kevin Cramer about his willingness to reform those programs.

The problem with all this is the fact McConnell is far from serious about addressing any sort of entitlement reform or spending reform. You’re talking about a Senator who has consistently voted in favor of spending increases and had previously discussed getting the goodies-filled Farm Bill passed before the end of the year. The only time McConnell appears willing to show fiscal sanity is when his party isn’t in power – meaning when it’s politically expedient to show some kind of lip-service to government-cutting fiscal restraint (i.e. getting re-elected).

Perhaps the most abnormal statement by McConnell came during his commentary on why he believed a divided government would bring about entitlement reform.

Well, we had that opportunity during the Obama years and I talked to President Obama about it a number of times. It would have been the perfect time to do it. Think of Reagan and Tip O’Neill coming together in the early 80’s to raise the age of Social Security.

It took it out of the political arena and made it possible for it to be successful. That’s what we had the chance to do during the Obama years because we had divided government for six of his eight years. Unfortunately, it was not achieved.

What a confounding answer! One would think a government run by Republicans would be able to actually get entitlement reform done to slowly reduce the reliance Americans have on certain programs. Of course, the fact you have a president who has consistently said he won’t touch Social Security or Medicaid is probably one reason why it will never happen – despite fire and fury from Democrats about the GOP gunning for Medicaid and Social Security.

McConnell isn’t serious about reforming Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid despite his comments to Bloomberg about them being the main driver of the debt. The fact federal spending is going up – despite Trump’s claim to want a 5% cut from each department – shows no one in Washington is serious about spending reform (remember, Congress sets the budget and the president can sign it or veto it).

I’ll put a simple Social Security solution out there – which people can take or leave. Those 45 and older can keep their Social Security if they want or have it deposited in the bank account of their choosing. Those under the age of 45 either get a nice check of what they’ve ‘contributed’ (aka had forcibly taken from their paychecks without consent) or the money is deposited into a bank account of their choosing. Social Security would no longer be taken out of anyone’s paycheck.

The federal government would then have to put the remainder of the tab in the General Fund – meaning they have to find tax money for it every year. It would mean major, major budget cuts would have to hit other departments, but maybe that would kickstart an era of actual fiscal sanity (not that I’m getting my hopes up) and stop the spiraling debt and deficits we’re dealing with.

Until then, any sort of “Oh, we have to reform Social Security” is just that…words.

Jazz Shaw Jul 03, 2022 10:01 AM ET