Are Republicans Going to Abandon Entitlement Reform?



A few quick facts on entitlement spending: (a) CBO projects federal spending on Medicare and Social Security over the next 25 years will rise by roughly 3 percentage points of GDP,  to 11% from 8%; (b) an aging US population will be the prime driver of that projected higher spending; (c) a middle-class, one-earner couple retiring in 2030 will receive $1.3 million in lifetime Medicare and Social Security benefits having paid in just under $500,000.

To me, these numbers argue pretty strong in favor of reforming entitlements to spend less than projected and weight that future spending more toward lower-income Americans. Now, I have been worried that Republicans are backing way from reforming Medicare and Social Security in favor of cutting Medicaid and various income support programs. The former would be classified as “earned benefits” or as the WSJ’s Homan Jenkins has put it,  “… middle-class rewards for a life of hard work and tax-paying, against Mr. Obama’s vast expansion of the means-tested welfare state for working-age Americans. ”

Now, Chris Christie’s proposal to means test Social Security would argue against this theory. But then Mike Huckabee, another potential 2016er, went and said this (via The Weekly Standard):

“I don’t know why Republicans want to insult Americans by pretending they don’t understand what their Social Security program and Medicare program is,” Huckabee said in response to a question about Christie’s proposal to gradually raise the retirement age and implement a means test.

Huckabee said his response to such proposals is “not just no, it’s you-know-what no.”

“I’m not being just specifically critical of Christie but that’s not a reform,” he said. “That’s not some kind of proposal that Republicans need to embrace because what we are really embracing at that point is we are embracing a government that lied to its people–that took money from its people under one pretense and then took it away at the time when they started wanting to actually get what they have paid for all these years.”

Huckabee also said he wouldn’t sign congressman Paul Ryan’s plan to reform Medicare for Americans who are 55 years old and younger. “At 55, that still means if I started working, started paying in when I was 14, so for me that would be 51 years [sic] that I’d be paying in and suddenly you’re telling me they’re going to be changing the rules for you here.”

Huckabee said this morning that the only entitlement reforms he would support would be giving retirees the option to take a lump-sum cash payment upon retirement and changing the existing programs for people who are just now entering the workforce.

Not only is Huckabee arguing against any reforms that would reduce future spending, he supports making fiscal problems worse in the short run. By the way, here is a summary of how Huckabee polls among older voters:

Check the crosstabs of a few recent polls and you’ll find him unusually strong for a Republican among older voters. This CNN survey last month put his favorable rating at 46/31 among voters age 50 or older; of the six other Republican candidates tested, the nearest to that level of support was Jeb Bush at just 36 percent — versus 48 percent unfavorable. Same deal with PPP’s most recent poll. Of nine GOP candidates tested, Huckabee topped everyone among Republicans over age 65 with 67 percent support, although Rubio and Walker were hot on his heels in that demographic.

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  1. Frank Soto Contributor
    Frank Soto

    James Pethokoukis: Huckabee said this morning that the only entitlement reforms he would support would be giving retirees the option to take a lump-sum cash payment upon retirement and changing the existing programs for people who are just now entering the workforce.

    I thought we all agreed that Mike Huckabee was an unserious man who was to be ignored. When did we decide to violate this policy?

    • #1
  2. Misthiocracy Member

    There’s “abandoning something as a campaign issue” and then there’s “abandoning something as a policy priority”.

    Look at George W. Bush. In 2000 he campaigned on “no more overseas adventures”. If one looked at GWB in 2000, one could naturally be forgiven for thinking he would NOT be up to the job of defending the United States after 2001. And yet, when the time came, he stepped up to the plate (whether successfully or not is of course debatable, but it’s undeniable that his actions post-2001 did not match his rhetoric from 2000).

    Similarly, Barack Obama has governed in many ways exactly how he used to denounce Republicans, especially on executive action and transparency.

    There are two possible lessons here:

    1) Hypocrisy works.  That’s probably the wrong lesson.  Don’t learn that lesson.

    2) During a campaign, promise popular things and don’t promise unpopular things. When elected, you can then do things you didn’t promise to do, as long as you didn’t promise not to do them.

    Entitlement reform is necessary, but it is not  a winner on a campaign. Don’t promise to do it, but don’t promise not to do it either. Promise popular stuff, get elected, keep your promises (this is important!),but also do the things that have to be done, even if you didn’t talk about ’em during the campaign.

    • #2
  3. Valiuth Inactive

    Huckabee is such a weasel. A first rate con man, who apparently can’t do math which might explain his positions on this matter.

    Anyone who was serious would realize that these retirement benefits where never designed to work out fiscally for people that live on average 20+ years after retirement. Considering how much longer people live and the new kinds of jobs people do 65 is too early to retire. Social Security was meant as a program to help elderly people incapable of work not live in abject poverty do to their lack of funds. Most people died before they could even cash it in back when it was first created, and it was sustained by a population bubble. Who cares what the Government promised back in 1936. Things have changed its time to change with it.

    • #3
  4. The King Prawn Inactive
    The King Prawn

    Huckabee’s big mistake is thinking this changes the system from truth to lie. SS has been snake oil from its beginning.

    • #4
  5. user_1030767 Inactive

    My impression is that before Social Security and Medicare, young people worked and created wealth, and a portion of that wealth was used to support their retired elders.  Under Social Security and Medicare, that remains the same.  Taxes paid today support old people today.  The government has inserted itself as an unnecessary middleman, without adding anything of value that I can discern.

    I could imagine the possibility that Social Security helps childless elderly, who have no children to take care of them in their old age.  On the other hand, it’s a lot easier to save money when you don’t have children.

    • #5
  6. user_139005 Member

    Misthiocracy is right. Don’t make the case for entitlement reform during the election, but don’t argue against it either. Leave the option open.

    This should be doable in the upcoming election, as other issues have the spotlight. Christie has made a tactical error in bringing it up.

    • #6
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