Paul Ryan admits the GOP will gut Medicare and Medicaid to pay for tax cuts

GOP lawmakers are driving up the deficit, then claiming the deficit's too high to support safety net programs for poor people.

CREDIT: AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
CREDIT: AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

Republicans in Congress are openly admitting they plan to use their tax reform bill to justify slashing funding for essential social programs like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and food stamps.

The bill — which is expected to balloon the national deficit by at least $1 trillion, and which only benefits the country’s wealthiest in the long-term — has not yet been reconciled or signed. But Republicans aren’t wasting any time laying out what they see as the next step.

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) laid out the plan in an interview Wednesday on Ross Kaminsky’s radio show. “We’re going to have to get back next year at entitlement reform, which is how you tackle the debt and the deficit,” Ryan said, adding that health care entitlements like Medicare and Medicaid are “the big drivers of our debt.”

He defended this by claiming the bill would generate $1 trillion dollars in revenues, which is a common talking point in support of the legislation. But a recent analysis from the Joint Committee on Taxation found that the nearly $1.5 trillion tax plan will only generate around $400 billion dollars in growth, meaning it’ll actually fall $1 trillion short of breaking even. In other words, it’ll grow the deficit, not shrink it.

Now, Republicans in Congress are admitting they’ll use the deficit they’re working to create to justify cutting some of the most important programs in the country.

Ryan is not alone in admitting this. Rep. Rod Blum (R-IA) claimed that to achieve the growth the tax plan forecasts, “we have to have welfare reform.” Rep. Clay Higgins (R-LA) said, “If we pass tax reform, we have to have welfare reform.” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) directly admitted that the plan all along has been “to do two things,” because “the driver of our debt is the structure of Social Security and Medicare for future beneficiaries.”

Cuts to social welfare programs would be far more unpopular than the tax bill already is. A recent Pew Survey found that 94 percent of Democrats and 85 percent of Republicans oppose cutting Medicare. President Trump has also repeatedly promised not to cut programs like Medicare and Medicaid — though Ryan said, “We’re working with the President on the entitlements that he wants to reform, that he’s supportive of.”

What’s perhaps most insidious about these admissions is that the Republican lawmakers are also blaming poor people for their own failure as they prepare to cut programs that help the people who need it the most. Ryan suggested that the programs are “paying people not to work.” Higgins referred to Americans who “suffer on welfare.” Blum went so far as to say, “Sometimes we need to force people to go to work.”

These remarks are akin to the more candid comments some other lawmakers have recently made. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) claimed during debate on the tax bill last week that entitlements “help people who won’t help themselves, won’t lift a finger, and expect the federal government to do everything.” Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) defended repealing the estate tax — a move that almost exclusively benefits the wealthy — by bemoaning “those that are just spending every darn penny they have, whether it’s on booze or women or movies.”

But as the Washington Post notes, the programs Republican lawmakers want to cut actually help people who are struggling get back to work. For example, nearly 90 percent of working-age parents who receive food stamps are back to work within a year. But two thirds of the people who receive those benefits are children, people who have disabilities, or people too old to return to work.