Update | Florida Senator Marco Rubio admits that the Republican tax cut plan, which benefits corporations and the wealthy, will require cuts to Social Security and Medicare to pay for it.
To address the federal deficit, which will grow by at least $1 trillion if the tax plan passes, Congress will need to cut entitlement programs such as Social Security, Rubio told reporters this week. Advocates for the elderly and the poor have warned that entitlement programs would be on the chopping block, but this is the first time a prominent Republican has backed their claims.
"You have got to generate economic growth because growth generates revenue," Rubio said at a Politico conference. "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."
Rubio's talk of structural change is vague but will likely include changing the rate and age of Social Security and Medicare payouts.
Republicans have long said that the growth generated from slashing corporate tax rates from 35 percent to 20 percent would make their tax cuts "revenue neutral," but there's no evidence they're right. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the Senate tax plan would increase the U.S. deficit by $1.4 trillion over the next decade, and the nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation has said the plan will boost economic growth by only 0.8 percent over the next decade, leaving $1 billion in cuts unpaid for.
So where does that money come from?
The simple answer is Social Security and Medicare, which together make up 38 percent of the total federal budget, second only to military spending.
Other key Republicans have hinted that after the tax bill passes they'll take on welfare and entitlement programs. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said that he wants Republicans to reduce spending on government programs in 2018. Last month, President Donald Trump said that welfare reform will "take place right after taxes—very soon, very shortly after taxes."
Senate Finance Committee Chair Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said Thursday that "liberal programs" for the poor were wasting Americans' money.
"What's coming next is all too predictable: The deficit hawks will come flying back after this bill becomes law," said Senator Ron Wyden, (D-Ore.) "Republicans are already saying 'entitlement reform' and 'welfare reform' are next up on the docket. But nobody should be fooled—that's just code for attacks on Medicaid, on Medicare, on Social Security, on anti-hunger programs."
Republican senators say their bill helps the middle class, but most analyses of the plan shows that it increases taxes on low-income Americans and significantly aids wealthy business owners. Cuts to welfare and safety net programs would directly affect the poorest and most vulnerable Americans.
The Republicans' view on entitlement spending is reminiscent of President Ronald Reagan's; he defunded a number of welfare programs to pay for his tax cuts.
Changes do need to be made to entitlement programs to keep them solvent. Both Social Security and Medicare programs are on a fiscally unsustainable path—Medicare's hospital insurance trust fund will be exhausted by 2029, and Social Security's trust fund will be exhausted by 2034.
Correction: An earlier version of this story ran a widely quoted statement from Rubio that originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times and many other publications, but did not exactly match what the senator said. This version of story matches Rubio's exact phrasing to a tape of the event.