After instituting a $1.5 trillion tax cut and signing off on a $675 billion budget for the Department of Defense, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday that the only way to lower the record-high federal deficit would be to cut entitlement programs like Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.
"It’s disappointing, but it’s not a Republican problem," McConnell said of the deficit, which grew 17 percent to $779 billion in fiscal year 2018. McConnell explained to Bloomberg that "it’s a bipartisan problem: Unwillingness to address the real drivers of the debt by doing anything to adjust those programs to the demographics of America in the future." The deficit has increased 77 percent since McConnell became majority leader in 2015.
New Treasury Department analysis on Monday revealed that corporate tax cuts had a significant impact on the deficit this year. Federal revenue rose by 0.04 percent in 2018, a nearly 100 percent decrease on last year’s 1.5 percent. In fiscal year 2018, tax receipts on corporate income fell to $205 billion from $297 billion in 2017.
Still, McConnell insisted that the change had nothing to do with a lack of revenue or increased spending and instead was due to entitlement and welfare programs. The debt, he said, was very “disturbing” and driven by “the three big entitlement programs that are very popular, Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid.… There’s been a bipartisan reluctance to tackle entitlement changes because of the popularity of those programs. Hopefully, at some point here, we’ll get serious about this.”
President Donald Trump promised to leave Medicare untouched on the campaign trail, but Republican leaders like House Speaker Paul Ryan and Florida Senator Marco Rubio have long indicated their desire to cut entitlement programs to pay for their tax cuts.
"You have got to generate economic growth because growth generates revenue,” Rubio said at a Politico conference late last year. "But you also have to bring spending under control. And not discretionary spending. That isn’t the driver of our debt. The driver of our debt is the structure of Social Security and Medicare for future beneficiaries."
“We're going to have to get back next year at entitlement reform, which is how you tackle the debt and the deficit,” Speaker Ryan said on a conservative radio program around the same time.
Democrats, meanwhile, jumped on McConnell’s admission as proof that Republicans had long planned to cut entitlement spending to fund the tax cuts that largely benefit corporations and wealthy Americans. “The truth comes out! This was their deceptive plan all along,” said Representative Lois Frankel of Florida.
“When Republicans in Congress said their tax cuts to wealthy multinational corporations would pay for themselves, they lied,” wrote Ohio Congressman Tim Ryan on Twitter. “Now, they're going to try to come for hardworking people to foot the bill by slashing Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. We can't let them.”
A recent Pew poll found that the majority of both Democrats and Republicans thought the rising federal deficit and cost of health care were major problems facing the U.S.—something that Democrats are taking note of and will try to package into their midterm campaign platforms over the next three weeks.
“Every Republican Senate candidate is on the hook for Mitch McConnell’s plan to cut Medicare and Social Security. First it was jeopardizing pre-existing conditions coverage, then it was pursuing an age tax that would charge older Americans more for care, and now it’s targeting the benefits Americans have paid into,” wrote Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesman David Bergstein in a statement. “This platform is disqualifying, and just like taking away coverage for pre-existing conditions, it's exactly what GOP candidates don't want to be talking about weeks before the election.”