If you are feeling a sense of deja vu about where the current budget debate in Congress is headed, you aren’t alone, and I offered an explanation at New York:
In the partisan messaging battle over the federal budget, Joe Biden seems to have Republicans right where he wants them. Beginning with his State of the Union Address in early February, the president has hammered away at GOP lawmakers for plotting to gut wildly popular Social Security and Medicare benefits. This has driven Republicans into a defensive crouch; they can either pretend their proposed cuts aren’t really cuts or forswear them altogether. It’s a message that Democrats would love to highlight every day until the next election, or at least until Republicans figure out a better response than lies, evasions, and blustery denials.
But as Ron Brownstein points out in The Atlantic, there is a logical path Republicans could take to counter Democrats’ claims that GOP policies threaten popular retirement programs. It’s based on pitting every other form of federal domestic spending against Social Security and Medicare, and on making Democratic support for Big Government and its beneficiaries a political problem among seniors:
“Republicans hope that exempting Social Security and Medicare [from cutbacks they are demanding for raising the federal debt limit] will dampen any backlash to their deficit-reduction plans in economically vulnerable districts. But protecting those programs, as well as defense, from cuts—while also precluding tax increases—will force the House Republicans to propose severe reductions in other domestic programs … potentially including Medicaid, the ACA, and food and housing assistance.
“Will a Republican push for severe reductions in those programs provide Democrats with an opening in such places? Robert J. Blendon, a professor emeritus at the Harvard School of Public Health, is dubious. Although these areas have extensive needs, he told me, the residents voting Republican in them are generally skeptical of social-welfare spending apart from Social Security and Medicare. ‘We are dealing with a set of values here, which has a distrust of government and a sense that anyone should have to work to get any sort of low-income benefit,’ Blendon said. ‘The people voting Republican in those districts don’t see it as important [that] government provides those benefits.’”
And so Republicans will very likely return to the messaging they embraced during the Obama administration. Back then, self-identified Tea Party conservatives constantly tried to convince elderly voters that the real threat to their retirement programs stemmed not from GOP budget cutting, but from Democratic-backed Big Government spending on younger people and minorities, with whom many conservative voters did not identify. Then as now, a partisan budget fight — and the threat of a debt default of government shutdown — let Republicans frame funding decisions as a competition between groups of beneficiaries, rather than a debate over abstract levels of taxing or spending.
The big opening shot in the anti-Obama campaign was Sarah Palin’s wildly mendacious but highly effective September 2009 Facebook post claiming that the Affordable Care Act would create “death panels” that would eliminate Medicare coverage for seniors or disabled children deemed socially superfluous (the barely legitimate basis for the attack was an Affordable Care Act provision to allow Medicare payments to physicians discussing end-of-life treatments with patients).
Soon Republicans would come up with slightly more substantive claims that Obamacare threatened Medicare. In 2011, House GOP budget maven Paul Ryan, whom Democrats hammered for his proposals to partially privatize both Social Security and Medicare, claimed that Obama administration projections of health cost savings in Medicare represented a shift of resources from Medicare to Obamacare. By 2012, when Ryan became Mitt Romney’s running mate, Ryan was campaigning with his mother in tow, claiming that Republicans wanted to protect her from raids on her retirement benefits by the redistributionist Democrats.
Romney and Ryan didn’t win, of course, but they did win the over-65 vote by a robust 56-44 margin, a better performance in that demographic than Trump registered in 2016 or 2020. As Thomas Edsall explained in The New Republic in 2010, the Tea Party–era Republicans understood they had to mobilize their federal spending constituents against alleged competitors:
“Republicans understand that one axis of the resource war will be generational. All of their vows to defend Medicare are coupled with attacks on Obama’s health care reform. They implicitly portray Democrats as waging an age war—creating a massive new government program that transfers dollars to the young at the expense of the elderly. Republicans have cleverly stoked the fear that Obama is rewarding all his exuberant, youthful, idealistic supporters by redistributing resources that are badly needed by the old.”
In a 2024 campaign in which Democrats are going for the jugular with seniors, a reprise of the GOP’s 2012 Medicare counterattack, dishonest as it was, might make sense.
During this year’s budget skirmish in Congress, House Republicans are expected to take a claw hammer to domestic spending outside Social Security and Medicare, as the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities reports:
“This spring, House Republicans are expected to release an annual budget resolution that calls for large health care cuts, and Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) marketplace coverage are likely to be prime targets. House Republican leaders are calling for cutting the deficit and making the Trump tax cuts permanent, while saying they will shield certain areas of the budget (Medicare, Social Security, and military spending) from cuts. To do all these things at once, it is highly likely they will propose cuts in health programs that provide coverage to millions of people.”
The House GOP has also already called for deep cuts in nondefense discretionary spending, including food stamp and nutrition programs. It’s likely the GOP’s state-based crusade against “woke” public education will lead to a renewal of ancient conservative demands to deeply cut or kill the U.S. Department of Education. Maybe those representing energy-producing areas will go hard after EPA or the Department of the Interior’s programs. Almost certainly, the GOP as a whole will embrace across-the-board cuts in federal employment or federal employee benefits under the guise of “draining the swamp.” Any and all such cuts can also be rationalized as necessary to avoid reductions in spending for Social Security, Medicare, and national defense, not to mention tax increases.
Whatever formula they adopt, there’s little doubt Republicans will find ways to present themselves the true defenders of Social Security and Medicare, just as many of them will always keep scheming for ways to damage or destroy these vestiges of the New Deal and Great Society. Biden seems committed to his effort to make seniors fear the GOP, and this is the only way Republicans can counter-punch.
Anaylsis of state by state can be found at http://www.mydd.com and at the polling report. Too close to call.
To understand the political attitudes of College Students at any given time, it is useful to remember they have very little knowledge of political history beyond their own political awakening during their teen years. Like it or not, that is their frame of reference. For those in college today, the dominant images would be Clinton’s second term with the Impeachment mess, followed by the Florida Election mess and then 911. There is little in any of that likely to turn them toward fairly progressive political ideas, or even introduce them into the mix. For those of us who are older — and remember things like Vietnam or Civil Rights or even Watergate — we have to pinch ourselves and remember that the vast majority of today’s college students only know those events as part of political history through some films, perhaps a fes pages in a text book, or maybe listening to a few conversations with their parents generation. Most have no knowledge of these things at all, because they are not really represented in the popular culture in which they have lived their lives. They will poll accordingly until something brings them up short, and they make an effort to acquire a broader frame of reference that includes at least some history they did not personally experience. Aah yes, there are exceptions — but the vast majority of undergraduate students are profoundly a-historical, and always have been.
the polls probably are only polling about 20 people per average size state. you can find seperate state-wide polls though.
yes, i agree. does anyone know where such a national poll may be (w/ state-by-state info.).
Can somebody do a state-by-state analysis (with current polling data) to show how the electoral college will pan out if the election were held tomorrow?
The shift is unboubtadly thanks to Mr. Kerry. Kudos to him.
Have a look at the results–there’s a link at the end of Ruy’s essay. 78% of the respondents are White. 30% of those who say they’re Republicans cite their family upbringing as the main reason, and 65% of all respondents say their parents’ total household income in 2003 was over $50,000. Perhaps most significant of all, 33% of the respondents are freshmen, and 23% are sophomores, so the sample is skewed heavily toward students who are under 21. They are the people who haven’t seen this movie before–the big deficits, social reactionaryism, and militarism of Republican administrations.
My guess is this:
Financial aid at colleges has been getting shittier and shittier, and the proportion of working, and even lower middle, class, people who go to them has been decreasing, even at state universities. This means that the people at 4-year colleges are closer and closer to Bush’s ‘base’ among the wealthy.
Not to say that most college age people are right wing now, because they aren’t. But as someone who spent 4 years at college, and then two at grad school, all at the same university (I finished my Masters quite recently) I saw the student body change from majority left and left-of centre to majority apolitical, with the left and right having about equal visibility on campus. And I went to school in Massachusetts. I can only imagine what it’s like in the rest of the country
I had no idea Bush support among college students was previously so high. That’s just bizarre to me – very counterintuitive. Why do you think that was?