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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Headed for a cliff

GOP House looking to force cuts to Medicare and Social Security


One out of five residents in St. Louis County are over the age of 65, which means virtually all of them qualify for one of the most important parts of the American safety net— Medicare.
Prior to the passage of Medicare in 1965, the cost of medical bills and insurance for elderly Americans was utterly unaffordable for most seniors, leaving the aged just one illness away from either bankruptcy, death, or long-term disability.
Medicare changed all that because it covered the cost of hospitalization and most medical procedures. For an elderly person who suffers a stroke or who breaks a bone in a bad fall, or who has ongoing heart problems that put them in the hospital, often for extended stays, the costs of medical treatment can hit six figures within a matter of days. For most elderly people or couples, those kinds of expenses would be ruinous. Under Medicare, they’re covered.
For seniors in St. Louis County and across the country, Medicare and its related program, Social Security, are critical to enhancing the quality of life, or even making life possible.
Unfortunately, Republicans in the House now say they want to force cuts in both Social Security and Medicare as part of their newfound interest in going after so-called entitlement programs.
While we tend to think of “entitlement” as a negative, in the case of Social Security and Medicare, it’s an appropriate term because those who have paid into the system should be “entitled” to receive the benefits they’ve paid for. If you buy collision insurance for your car, you’re entitled to a check to cover repairs if you get in an accident. Both Social Security and Medicare are what’s known as social insurance. You pay in through payroll taxes during your working career and you’re entitled to benefits at a later point in life.
We don’t know the specifics of some of the cuts that Republicans hope to force into law. Some have mentioned increasing the age of eligibility, while others have suggested reducing benefit levels for future retirees. Either way, the impact would be felt by millions of Americans, either now or in the near future.
You might think that the GOP, with its razor thin majority in the House, and a Democratically controlled Senate and White House, has little chance of actually enacting Medicare or Social Security cuts into law. Yet the radical wing of the GOP doesn’t operate by the normal rules of political engagement. They’re hostage takers and they’ve already named their planned hostage— the American economy.
In normal times, a House speaker would be able to bring radicals in line. But new House Speaker Kevin McCarthy was the first hostage taken by the GOP’s radical fringe, and his negotiated release essentially handed the inmates the keys to the asylum. In a closed door hearing last week, Republicans outlined their plans, which included forcing deep spending cuts across the board, including in mandatory programs like Medicare and Social Security. They don’t plan to negotiate these cuts with the Senate or the White House. In fact, a screen shot of a slide from that closed door presentation specifically states that no negotiation will be permitted unless the Senate goes along entirely with the House plan. In other words, it’s our way or the highway.
And linked to all that is the promise to block any increase in the debt limit and force a U.S. government default on its bonds unless the House extremists get their way on their spending plans. According to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, we reached the debt limit as of this week and she estimates we can only stave off a default until sometime in May.
Under normal circumstances, it would be easy to write off all the GOP rhetoric as just that. In the end, there have usually been enough Republicans who aren’t willing to spark a global financial crisis to get the debt ceiling raised, even if the process is sometimes ugly. But the extraordinarily weak position of Speaker McCarthy puts all that in doubt, since he clearly lacks the ability to control his rump faction of fanatics. He’s effectively given them the reins in the House and they appear more than happy to take the whole thing over the cliff, Thelma and Louise style.
Unfortunately, if they’re successful in forcing their wanted cuts to Medicare and Social Security, they could be taking a lot of old folks, and folks who will be old soon enough, over the cliff with them. Buckle up.