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.
lgherb it has certainly been infuriating to listen and watch what has been going on. George Lakoff helped with his concept of reframing and avoiding words the GOP had managed to redefine. His perception of what drives the conservatives was helpful also. I personally think Drew Westin did an even better job in Political Brain.
With the Internet becoming a more frequent source of news and information to many Americans, we will hopefully reach more who are looking for answers that make sense in the reality of the huge problems the GOP has brought down upon our house.
Given the smaller numbers identifying as GOP, we do not have so much of a house divided against itself. We do have a lot of respectful, considerate and helpful conversations we could begin and maintain.
I like these comments very much.
“…the logical conclusion drawn is that those who actively denigrate these words and concepts advocate the antonyms of them. Social, religious, economic, and intellectual freedom became abhorred on an almost social subconscious level.”
“…the GOP will have been silently working to build a neo-aristocracy characterized by very distinct ruling and working classes; limited social mobility, tight integration of church and state, and strict limits of personal freedom.”
Perhaps just as important is not letting the opportunity the GOP has given us – creating a significant distrust of their party in American voters – by making them distrust us as well.
The proposed campaign by the GOP to re-brand the Democratic Party as the “Democrat Socialist Party” returns me to my ongoing bewilderment of how United States citizens allowed the word “liberal” to be demonized by this same collection of elitists. Starting with the so-called “Reagan Revoltion” and continuing through today, the conservative movement has flashed into the consciousness of the voting public the equation of the word “liberal” with the concept of “extremely undesirable” or downright “un-American”.
This mantra became generally accepted by roughly 1/2 of the voting public for nearly three decades without ever being fundamentally analyzed. How often over the last 25 years during the ongoing tug-of-war for the consciousness of voters did anyone actually define the word “liberal”?
Once one researches the definitions and etymology of the word “liberal” and the related words and concepts of “liberty” and “liberalism”, the logical conclusion drawn is that those who actively denigrate these words and concepts advocate the antonyms of them. Social, religious, economic, and intellectual freedom became abhorred on an almost social subconscious level.
This propaganda fueled the engine of conservative sound bites for years until this golden fuel rod became spent, necessitating this new branding effort. In scripting a new propaganda campaign, the strategy remains the same: define the competition based on the worst fears of the at-large psyche while never actively and distinctly defining that which they truly advocate.
How long will it take with this new campaign for the public to come to the revelation that in framing the Democratic Party as the equivalent of communists/socialists/nazis that the GOP will have been silently working to build a neo-aristocracy characterized by very distinct ruling and working classes; limited social mobility, tight integration of church and state, and strict limits of personal freedom.
Errors and omissions.
IRV is Instant Recount Voting.
Just occurred to me that in cases like the Franken-Coleman race, if the number of contested ballots could not give either candidate the percent needed to win, the IRV could be done and possibly save the need for the accuracy recount.
Sports analogy for IRV versus one candidate only voting.
It is more like winning the World Series than the Superbowl.
Time to start gathering statements from the Socialist Party, socialist leaders and scholars to explain why we are NOT socialist in the sense they are accusing. Interestingly, the political socialism in Europe, as opposed to communism, is described as democratic socialism. We know the GOP misspelling is not ignorance.
I find it very amusing that Bopp thinks the Obama administration can accomplish all of those items “in a few short years”. Granted it is easier and faster to destroy than to build. We have just had a hopefully unforgettable lesson in this from the Bush administration.
The grown ups in this country know it is a mess and cleaning it up is not going to be easy or quick. The GOP is determined to make a nuisance of themselves and obstinately refuse to make some intelligent changes in the party. The longer they do that the harder it will be to recover.
I am becoming convinced this is the right time for it to fade away. Either America and the world choose to decrease consumerism, and increase humanism, while taking out the power groups that have foisted financial control on us to grow the elite class; or we will continue down the slippery slope of failed civilizations and extinction. (See Jared Diamond “Collapse” and John Kerry “The New War”.)
There is a strong belief that we need a 2 party system in this country. I agree that we should not have, for all practical discussion, a single party system. What I would like to see is a system that encourages the growth and development of new parties, so that the power is spread more instead of becoming too concentrated in the leaders of a specific party; while changes in demographics, culture and social issues change voters priorities at a faster rate. Any group that has been functioning long enough is likely to become mired in it’s traditions and obstinate devotion to out dated philosophies.
Instant recall voting (IRV) would promote this as well as severely cutting down the Florida, Ohio and Minnesota debacles. In being allowed to vote for candidates in order of preference, the computer program can be written to start recounting if no candidate has a large enough percent of the vote (determined by the governing body that declares the winner) to win. In the races where there are 3 strong candidates, 2 of the candidates will represent the thinking of a majority of the voters. One is a strong party, the other an emerging party. The third party is a strong party that is losing touch with the voters. The new party has grown to represent the growing numbers of voters whose beliefs are consistent with the paths that society has started to pursue.
As elections are run and votes are reported, emerging party candidates will have a better chance to find out how much real support they have. Members of the Democratic party might very well prefer to vote for Greens – except for the horror of the Republican winning a three way. When many voters switch to a new party, other voters will start paying more attention to those candidates, increasing their strength until it reaches a critical mass. Putting the obsolete [GOP] party in the minority, letting the remaining majority party and the new one begin the philosophical competition for votes based on ideology, policy, etc.
Over time our Broken Branch of Congress will function much better as will the better Executive and then Judicial branches.
Better Government for All.