House GOP plan would cut Social Security, ban all abortions

Roughly 80 percent of House Republicans just lined up behind a plan to cut Social Security and ban all abortions.

President Biden smiling happily in front of an American flag backdrop.

Biden vibing in Pennsylvania. Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Donald Trump would be on track to win a historic landslide in November — if so many US voters didn’t find him personally repugnant.

Roughly 53 percent of Americans have an unfavorable opinion of the former president. And yet, when asked about Trump’s ability to handle key issues — or the impact of his policies — voters routinely give the Republican candidate higher marks than President Biden.

In a YouGov survey released this month, Trump boasted an advantage over Biden on 10 of the 15 issues polled. On the three issues that voters routinely name as top priorities — the economy, immigration, and inflation — respondents said that Trump would do a better job by double-digit margins.

Meanwhile, in a recent New York Times/Siena College poll, 40 percent of voters said that Trump’s policies had helped them personally, while just 18 percent said the same of Biden. If Americans could elect a normal human being with Trump’s reputation for being “tough” on immigration and good at economics, they would almost certainly do so.

Biden is fortunate that voters do not have that option. But to erase Trump’s small but stubborn lead in the polls, the president needs to erode his GOP rival’s advantage on the issues.

Biden’s approach to that task has long been clear: He wants to make voters more concerned about two policy areas where Democrats still have the upper hand — Social Security and abortion — while making them more aware of the GOP’s extremely unpopular positions on those issues.

Trump has tried to mitigate his vulnerability on these fronts by insisting that he opposes Social Security cuts (occasional off-the-cuff comments to the contrary notwithstanding) and endorsing a ban on abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, instead of the blanket ban on all abortions that the Christian right favors.

Congressional Republicans have aided this effort by distancing themselves from their historic support of entitlement cuts during last year’s debt ceiling standoff. More recently, they tried to dissociate their party from the most unpopular aspects of the anti-abortion movement’s agenda, voicing opposition to the shutdown of in vitro fertilization clinics in Alabama.

But this week, the House GOP let the mask slip.

On Wednesday, the Republican Study Committee (RSC) — a caucus that represents 80 percent of House Republicans, including the party’s entire leadership — unveiled a budget that calls for cutting Social Security benefits and establishing that human life begins at conception.

The RSC tried to obscure the implications of its Social Security policy by describing its proposal as an increase in “the retirement age,” and declining to specify what the new age should be.

But that is just an opaque way of describing a large cut in benefits. As Matt Bruenig notes, Social Security does not have a single retirement age: It has 96 different retirement ages, each associated with a different level of benefits.

When lawmakers talk about “raising the retirement age,” they are really calling for an increase in the “full retirement age” — a variable in a formula that determines benefit levels at all 96 retirement ages. Raising the full retirement age to 69 — as the RSC proposed last fall — would translate into a roughly 14 percent cut to Social Security benefits, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

The RSC’s proposal would not impact existing beneficiaries, but those retiring as soon as 2033 would have to get by on lower monthly incomes.

The RSC budget falsely suggests that its reforms would leave future retirees better off than Biden’s entitlement policies would. The caucus notes that, absent policy change, Social Security’s trust fund will become insolvent by 2033, a development that would trigger a 23 percent cut to benefits, and it claims that simply letting Social Security go bankrupt is Biden’s actual plan.

But this is a description of Trump’s position, not the president’s. The likely GOP nominee has offered no explanation for how he would keep Social Security funded. To the contrary, he has signaled plans for slashing federal tax revenues by trillions of dollars, policies that would make preserving existing benefit levels even more fiscally challenging.

Biden, on the other hand, has called for substantially raising payroll taxes on Americans earning over $400,000 a year in order to sustain Social Security in its current form.

It is true that this by itself would not be enough to preserve benefits indefinitely; as boomers continue retiring and America’s ratio of retirees-to-workers rises, larger tax increases would be required to sustain today’s benefit levels through the 2040s. But there is a simple way to alleviate this problem: We could allow more prime-age adults to come to the United States and contribute to its economy. Alas, Trump and his party would like to do the opposite.

In any case, the RSC’s budget clarifies the parties’ respective positions on Social Security: Biden wants to preserve existing benefits through higher taxes on the rich, most House Republicans want to cut future benefits by 14 percent, and Trump wants to avoid taking any coherent position while starving the government of revenue, thereby engineering a 23 percent benefit cut by default.

Meanwhile, the RSC’s budget also calls for the passage of the Life at Conception Act, which would establish that “the right to life guaranteed by the Constitution is vested in each human being at all stages of life, including the moment of fertilization.” This would make abortion illegal in all cases, including for patients who were impregnated through rape or incest. What’s more, the budget would also cut Medicaid, the Affordable Care Act, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program by $4.5 trillion over 10 years, a proposal that might increase the salience of health care policy, which remains a source of Democratic strength.

Democrats didn’t wait long before unwrapping this political gift. Biden decried the RSC budget as “extreme” Thursday, noting that it “shows what Republicans value.” The White House then circulated a rundown of the plan’s most unpopular provisions while Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer denounced it from the Senate floor.

It’s unlikely that any of this will make a big impression on undecided voters, who do not typically pay much attention to budget proposals in general, let alone those without a prayer of actually passing in the current Congress. But the Biden campaign will be able to draw on the RSC’s proposals in future campaign advertisements.

It’s unclear whether this will be enough to dissuade voters of the view that Donald Trump is a bad man with good policies. But right now, Biden can use all the help he can get. And House Republicans just made an in-kind contribution to his campaign.


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