Advocates for seniors and the middle class have been warning for weeks that the Republican drive to cut taxes for the wealthy is the prelude to a larger attack on Social Security and Medicare.
In a videotaped interview with two
The only thing that’s new here is the explicit admission by a Republican officeholder that this is the
But $25 billion a year is a drastic cut that "would undermine the delivery of care to the 57 million seniors and disabled Americans who depend on the program," Max Richtman, head of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, said a couple of weeks ago.
The progressive Center on Budget and Policy Priorities observed that the Senate's plan, which would add $1.5 trillion to the deficit over 10 years, would "create pressure for future cuts." That's confirmed by Rubio's remarks to Palmer and Sherman.
Asked to justify the deficit increase caused by the proposed tax cuts, Rubio replied, "The argument would be, 'We can't cut taxes because that would drive up the deficit.' That assumes that somehow we can fix the deficit through higher taxes, and we can't."
"Right," Sherman interjected.
Actually, the proper response would have been "Wrong." If a tax cut can generate a deficit of $1.5 trillion, then plainly the federal deficit is sensitive to tax revenues. The root of today's deficit is the sharp run-up in federal spending that began under George W. Bush, without a commensurate tax increase.
Rubio delivered his statements in full earnest-wonk mode, all but shaking his head in regret at the painful reality he claimed to be outlining. But his demeanor concealed that he was blowing smoke. His prescription involves two options — generating economic growth and cutting spending. Actually, there are three options — raising taxes is the third. And both of the others are less cut and dried than Rubio suggests. For one thing, economic growth at the moment is near a recent historical high; most serious economists don't expect the GOP's tax cuts for the rich and for corporations to have any significant further impact.
For another, even if one is cutting spending, that leaves open the question: which spending? Rubio's argument that it has to be through cuts to Social Security and Medicare is GOP doctrine because it strikes at the middle and working classes and leaves the wealthy alone, cradling their huge tax cuts.
"The driver of our debt is the structure of Social Security and Medicare for future beneficiaries," Rubio said. Also wrong. The driver of the $1.5-trillion deficit over the next 10 years would be the Republican tax cuts, if they're enacted.
"We still have time to responsibly structure those programs," he said of Social Security and Medicare, "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's 46.) This could be done "in ways you wouldn't really notice and wouldn't really object to."
No one should be fooled by this argument. Rubio is pursuing the classic strategy of the enemies of social insurance programs to make them increasingly irrelevant to future generations by promising cuts that the affected beneficiaries "wouldn't really notice." This only eases the path toward eliminating those programs outright.
But members of those future generations should take notice. Like today's beneficiaries and those of the past, they're paying for their future benefits with every paycheck, and they should be profoundly aware that Rubio and his fellow Republicans are merely preparing to rip them off.