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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.