BY JESSICA CORBETT
When Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives elected Louisiana Congressman Mike Johnson as speaker last week, critics quickly sounded the alarm about his previous calls to cut trillions of dollars from Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid—and the GOP leader triggered a fresh wave of fears on Thursday with related comments to a Capitol Hill journalist.
NBC News‘ Sahil Kapur reported on social media that Johnson “says he pitched a debt commission to Senate Republicans yesterday and ‘the idea was met with great enthusiasm.’ He says it will be bipartisan and bicameral. He says he wants ‘very thoughtful people’ in both parties to lead it. He wants this ‘immediately.'”
More on this from Sen. Kevin Cramer: “There was a lot of good talk” about a fiscal commission.
Added there was a lot of appetite among Senate Rs to support Johnson’s move https://t.co/xk6B2TUYEv
— Joseph Zeballos-Roig (@josephzeballos) November 2, 2023
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla)—who led the ouster of ex-Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.)—celebrated Johnson’s rise as a win for the far-right. He declared last week that “MAGA is ascendant,” referring to the “Make America Great Again” campaign slogan of former President Donald Trump, who is the GOP front-runner for 2024.
Critics of the new speaker have similarly framed his election as a display of the far-right’s hold on the Republican Party, and are even calling him “MAGA Mike,” including in response to his comments Thursday.
“A week into his tenure, MAGA Mike Johnson is ALREADY calling for closed-door cuts to the Social Security and Medicare benefits American workers have earned through decades of hard work,” warned Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee.
Social Security Works said that “MAGA Mike Johnson’s NUMBER ONE priority is to cut our earned benefits behind closed doors.”
“The White House has rightfully called this type of commission a ‘death panel’ for Social Security and Medicare,” the group noted. “HANDS OFF!”
Back in February, long before McCarthy struck a deal with President Joe Biden to suspend the country’s debt ceiling, Republicans in Congress and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) were floating the idea of a commission, and White House spokesperson Andrew Bates said that “the American people want more jobs and lower costs, not a death panel for Medicare and Social Security.”
As Republican lawmakers have continued to pursue the idea, others have embraced the “death panel” description.
After Johnson’s mention of the commission in his speech last week, Los Angeles Times columnist Michael Hiltzik wrote:
On the whole, Johnson’s approach to social safety net programs comes right out of the GOP library of lies about the programs’ finances and their effect on the federal budget.
“The reality is, they’re headed towards bankruptcy,” he said in his July 2022 C-SPAN appearance. “In just a few number of years, Social Security goes belly up. So does Medicare, Medicaid, all of these big-spending programs because we’re drowning in debt.”
The idea that Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid are going “bankrupt” is standard Republican hogwash. So is the idea that Social Security will go “belly up” in some number of years—even if Congress sits on its hands, the program will still have enough revenue to cover three-quarters of the benefits due.
“The notion that those programs are drivers of the federal debt is also a bog-standard GOP talking point,” Hiltzik added. “A far more significant portion of the federal budget deficit is the lavish tax cut that Johnson’s party gifted to corporations and the wealthy in 2017, a $1.5-trillion giveaway from which the U.S. economy received no significant gain.”
Most House Republicans and a dozen Democrats on Thursday evening voted to pass a bill that would deliver on Biden’s request for $14.3 billion to help Israel wage war on Gaza—which experts are condemning as genocide—and cut Internal Revenue Service (IRS) funding.
Analysts and Democrats in Congress have warned that the IRS cut would hamper the agency’s ability to crack down on wealthy tax cheats, bolstered by the Congressional Budget Office finding Wednesday that the measure would reduce federal revenues by $26.8 billion and add $12.5 billion to the deficit over the next decade.
Rep. Summer Lee (D-Pa.), who opposed the bill and is among the few Democrats demanding a cease-fire in Gaza, said that “the only thing crueler than sending $14 billion in U.S. taxpayer dollars for weapons that will result in the deaths of thousands more innocent Palestinian children in Gaza is exploiting that war—exploiting the death of over 1,400 Israeli mothers, fathers, grandparents, children, and hundreds more hostages—to help corporate CEOs and billionaire donors cheat on their taxes.”
Jessica Corbett is a senior editor and staff writer for Common Dreams.
Licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0).