To Win in the Future, the GOP Needs to Embrace Entitlement Reform Now | Opinion

For years, too many in Congress were afraid of any serious effort to reform entitlement programs. Yet despite what political consultants may still be telling their clients, those days are over. Social Security and Medicare are now on the table because Joe Biden put them there.

True, he used a taken-out-of-context half-truth in his most recent State of the Union to bring it up, but that's beside the point. And the GOP response—shouting "no" back at him from the chamber floor—was hardly effective and definitely not a persuasive counter.

After Biden's speech ended, and while he was traveling around the country trying to reinforce the message that the GOP could not be trusted to save Social Security, Republican leaders should have countered by announcing they were putting together a task force to come up with a plan to make both programs not just sustainable but better.

Remember, Biden has no plan and Bernie Sanders wants everyone to be put on Medicare. That's a huge opening from which to launch an effective counterargument.

A national public discussion about what is needed to avoid the bankruptcy of either program while making them better would energize the electorate. It would be a debate over how best to reach and enjoy a secure retirement, which, as we know from looking around the globe, works better for more people when it's based on free market principles.

Admittedly, a project like this would be a tough sell to the highly paid advisers candidates for Congress rely on to tell them how to win elections. They embrace the idea that certain issues are a "third rail" because they think reform proposals divide the electorate, scare seniors, and create problems. This is what you might expect from people who like to go negative against the opposition, not open the door for the opposition to go negative against their clients.

Those willing to reform major entitlement programs could mine plenty of real-world examples to produce a workable plan that could be marketed effectively—especially in an environment where the president and the Democrats in Congress have not released a plan of their own.

Joe Biden and Kevin McCarthy
WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 07: US President Joe Biden hands a copy of his speech to House Speaker Kevin McCarthy of Calif., before he delivers his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress, on February 7, 2023 in the House Chamber of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC. The speech marks President Biden's first address to the new Republican-controlled House. Jacquelyn Martin-Pool/Getty Images

Whatever the Democrats' plan is, it will surely include some kind of redistribution of income or tax hike because that is the progressive solution to everything. It's also their biggest flaw.

People are tired of being taxed. They think they pay too much already and are sick of being told they need to pay more. Yes, the polls say people believe the rich should pay a greater share of the taxes than anyone else (and they do) but it's axiomatic that people believe "the rich" are simply those making more than they do. This gives the GOP an opening it would be foolish to ignore.

The Democrats will say, and already are saying, the Republican solution to the coming crisis is to cut benefits. That's not a charge that can be left unanswered. This is why the GOP needs to be bold, both when talking about ways to reduce costs to the taxpayer and by making investments now to improve things later.

There's room for inventiveness. Just as supply-side theory changed the way people think about taxes, it's time for a revolution in the way people talk about entitlements. You can get the bare minimum you have been promised throughout your working life or you can get something better.

The Republicans could be talking about the investments that can be made now in finding cures for diabetes, Alzheimer's, and other end-of-life illnesses that are costly to treat and cannot yet be cured. Breakthroughs now will reduce the amount that has to be spent on Medicare later.

Thinking big is also the way to make Social Security better and more sustainable. There's plenty to work with if the goal is to make the program more secure and financially stable, including by allowing recipients more options regarding their total savings when they retire.

The time to begin is now. The Republicans would be foolish if they wait to take up the banner of reform until after the next election. They must begin pitching new ideas to the American people now if they hope to counteract the messaging Democrats are already doing by election time.

It's going to take a lot of persuasion to convince the electorate to give these ideas a chance. Waiting until one or both programs collapse is not a workable option. The Democrats will make this an issue in 2024. The GOP needs to be prepared and have a plan.

Newsweek Contributing Editor Peter Roff has written about U.S. politics and policy for more than 20 years. He is now a fellow at several public policy organizations including the Trans-Atlantic Leadership Network. Email him at RoffColumns AT Follow him on Twitter and TruthSocial @TheRoffDraft

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.