The two biggest drivers of U.S. debt — Social Security and Medicare — are off limits in the budget resolution House Republicans are still waiting to debut, the measure’s author divulged Wednesday.
Facing a pileup of fiscal decisions ahead of the Sept. 30 government shutdown deadline, House conservatives are calling on Speaker Kevin McCarthy to quickly bring a “balanced budget” to the floor, to uphold a private promise they claim he made in January to clinch the speakership. By skipping changes to the country’s two largest entitlement programs, McCarthy could protect GOP lawmakers against political attacks from Democrats as he works to retain his House Republican majority in the 2024 election.
House Budget Chair Jodey Arrington (R-Texas) said Wednesday that the budget resolution is “coming soon” and that McCarthy is “all in.”
But the speaker already quashed Arrington’s ambitions this spring and was publicly dismissive of the chairman in the lead-up to negotiations over the debt ceiling, adding intrigue as conservatives demand McCarthy bring forth that fiscal framework for balancing the federal budget over a decade.
Arrington said he made the case for his budget resolution during a closed-door meeting of House Republicans on Wednesday. While leaders are still trying to whip 218 votes to approve the measure on the floor, the chair said he already has enough committee support for a markup.
“We’ve gotta build 218. The speaker’s supportive,” the Texas Republican said in an interview. “He’s all in, as is our leadership. I’ve presented to them in great detail. They’re all in. Can we get to 218? I think we can.”
All year, President Joe Biden and other top Democrats have been daring House Republicans to unveil a budget resolution to show how severely federal entitlement spending would need to be curtailed to zero out the deficit without raising taxes. The issue became even more politicized after GOP lawmakers called Biden a “liar” for saying during his State of the Union address that “a lot of Republicans — their dream is to cut Social Security and Medicare.”
The two safety net programs are “very politically sensitive,” Arrington acknowledged Wednesday. “So we move that out.”
“Medicare benefits and Social Security — we don’t address that in our long-term budget resolution,” the budget chair said.
Instead, House Republicans plan to recommend a bipartisan commission to shore up the two programs, which are expected to be insolvent in about a decade, leading to drastic cuts in benefits to older Americans.
A Bush-administration alum who is ever optimistic about cross-party compromise, Arrington expresses high hopes for that bipartisan commission, recalling that 40 years ago a bipartisan Social Security overhaul was enacted after then-President Ronald Reagan negotiated a compromise with then-Speaker Tip O’Neil in 1983.
“It won’t be all they want. It won’t be all they want. It’ll just be like Reagan and Tip O’Neill. That’s how we have to handle that,” Arrington said.
Even without tweaking Medicare and Social Security, the House Republican budget resolution will save $16 trillion over a decade, Arrington said. To reach that number, GOP leaders will count the spurring of economic growth, as well as “serious reform” to other federal entitlement programs like Medicaid and unemployment insurance. The federal spending lawmakers approve each year through regular government funding bills would be set at overall limits from two years ago and increase by 1 percent each year after that.
Acknowledging the House Republican budget resolution has no chance of being implemented with Democrats controlling the Senate and the White House, Arrington said it’s crucial for McCarthy’s conference to unite around a “fiscal framework for right-sizing the bureaucracy” as the national debt tops $30 trillion.
“It’s a framework. It’s an aspirational framework,” he said. “It’s realistic in that you could get there.”