Thursday, November 5, 2015

Republicans divided on whether to make 2016 about punishing seniors

Paul Ryan's ascendancy to the speaker's chair and the presidential nomination fight have brought Social Security and Medicare to the forefront for 2016. Now, Republicans are  "openly feuding," according to Robert Costa and Ed O'Keefe, two of the best watchers of the GOP. That, they say, risks "a potentially damaging intra-party battle ahead of the 2016 elections."
The rift was exemplified this week by the GOP stars of the moment. Newly installed House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) said he plans to pursue a "bold alternative agenda" that would include major revisions in entitlements. At the same time, leading Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump railed against proposals to end or significantly change Medicare.

The dispute is part of a larger GOP argument over which policies Republicans will present to voters next year and how far the party should go in pushing for changes. Three years ago, GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney and Ryan, his running mate, faced withering Democratic attacks after endorsing dramatic overhauls of Medicare and Social Security that proved unpopular. […]
"This is the biggest fault line in the party: whether Republicans should be talking about reducing benefits," conservative economist Stephen Moore said in an interview. "Republicans have fallen on their sword for 30 years trying to reform Social Security and Medicare, but the dream lives on—and it makes everyone nervous. Some see a political trap; others see it as necessary."

The loudest mouth calling it unnecessary is Donald Trump, who was quick to attack Ben Carson when the new frontrunner proposed abolishing Medicare. Carson himself has backed down a bit from that initial policy proposal (if you could call his disjointed ramblings proposals), but he is still incoherently calling for cutting Medicare. The remainder of the Republican slate—minus Mike Huckabee—is there, too. Their ideas are the same ideas we've always heard. Bush wants partial privatization and to raise the retirement age. Most want a retirement age hike (since most have always had cushy desk jobs and thus assume it's fine for everyone to work until they're 70) and most want means testing (since the financial position of most of them means they'll be fine in old age, and who cares about everyone else?).

Economist Moore asks "[h]ow many times do Democrats have to run ads of Granny getting pushed off of a cliff in order for Republicans to see that making this their main issue isn’t politically practical?" He also finds himself shocked that "Trump seems to have grasped that." Of course, as a newcomer, Trump isn't politically aligned closely with that tradition in the GOP that has been committed to destroying these programs since their inception. That's not in his DNA. There's no chance that the rest of the GOP—including Ryan—backs down from this crusade in 2016 or anytime after.

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