WASHINGTON—Congressional Republicans haven’t officially unveiled their legislative agenda should they sweep to power in November, but they gave an ugly preview—including putting Social Security payments at risk—this week on the campaign trail and at a key House committee work session.
The Social Security threat came from Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., who holds the shakiest seat among Senate Republicans seeking another term this fall. His opponent, Lieut. Gov. Mandela Barnes (D) pounced.
More of the agenda came in a series of right-wing Republican “poison pill” proposals offered on August 10 to the House Rules Committee as it sorted through potential amendments for the August 12 floor debate on the Senate-passed $739 billion Inflation Reduction Act.
One, by extreme right-winger Rep. Lauren Brobert, R-Colo., would mandate construction of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, an environmentally degrading project Democratic President Joe Biden killed.
Her tradeoff: Killing the Mountain States natural gas pipeline, one bargaining chip recalcitrant Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W. Va., demanded in exchange for his key vote there. No Keystone, no Mountain States, is Brobert’s deal.
And Reps. Ted Budd, R-N.C., and Joe Duncan, R-S.C.—the lawmaker who yelled “You lie!” at then-President Barack Obama during Obama’s address for the Affordable Care Act—want to take the money allotted to hire more IRS agents and use it to restart construction of the Republican Trump regime’s racist Mexican Wall, instead.
Reps. David Schweikert, R-Ariz., and Kevin Bacon, R-Neb., proposed killing Davis-Bacon prevailing wage requirements for “green” construction projects, as well as rules saying only well-qualified—union—apprenticeship programs could supply building trades trainees for them.
Even though all the Republican proposals went down the drain in the Democratic-run House Rules Committee by either rollcall votes or not being taken up at all, they offered details of the corporate-fueled and anti-worker agenda the Republicans would push should they regain Congress this fall.
And that agenda, at least according to Wisconsin Republican Johnson, includes putting Social Security checks and Medicare payments at the yearly whim of Congress.
Right now, Social Security pays retirees and the disabled monthly checks drawn from its trust fund. The money comes from payments into the system from payroll taxes and interest on federal bonds in which Social Security invests those funds. The same goes for Medicare.
Social Security payments are automatic, unless the government comes to a freezing halt, as happened under the Republican Trump regime’s 35-day shutdown several years ago. Johnson wants to change that, letting Congress decide, every year, whether to allot the money to send the checks out.
Johnson isn’t the sole Republican senator to scheme to put the two big programs caring for the elderly, the ill and the disabled, at risk.
Earlier this year, Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., who heads the Republican Senate campaign committee, which raises cash from corporate contributors, issued a written Republican agenda declaring every federal program “sunset”—die—unless Congress renews it, every five years.
This is worse, Barnes told interviewer Mehdi Hasan.
“Johnson’s calls to turn Social Security and Medicare into discretionary spending programs”—which Congress gets to vote on every year–to fund “threaten to strip working people of the essential benefits they’ve earned,” the statement on Barnes’ website says.
Barnes called Johnson, “a self-serving, out of touch, ultra-millionaire politician who cares about himself more than the rest of the people in Wisconsin…It’s exactly why I decided to run for the U.S. Senate, to kick him out of office because people are going to continue to be left behind as long as he’s in office.”
“Federal spending is in two baskets—discretionary spending which comes in annual appropriations in areas like defense and public works and mandatory spending that is generally governed by statute and includes entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare that provide guaranteed benefits.”
Johnson, Barnes said, wants to shift Social Security and Medicare to being discretionary. That’s even worse than Scott’s sunset scheme, declares Richard Fiesta, executive director of the pro-worker Alliance of Retired Americans.
“The number of dangerous schemes to cut or end Social Security and Medicare being discussed by Republican politicians is alarming,” added Fiesta. “It’s clear that Social Security and Medicare are on the ballot this November and seniors need to pay attention or risk losing the benefits they have earned over a lifetime.”
Then there’s the rest of the Republican “platform,” at least as proposed in amendments the House Rules Committee either defeated on party-line votes or didn’t even bother with. The proposals that lost included both building the Mexican Wall and junking Davis-Bacon. Others included, but are not limited to:
- Chip Roy, R-Texas, and Jeff Duncan, R-S.C., wanted to junk the entire legislation—including its extended Affordable Care Act insurance subsidies for the poor and near-poor, its $369 billion in subsidies and tax credits to combat climate change, and its tax hikes on the rich and billion-dollar corporations who now don’t pay a penny in federal taxes.
- Clay Higgins, R-La., wanted to kill the entire Agriculture Department, including its regulators, such as the Food Safety and Inspection Service. He didn’t say why.
- The legislation imposes a $2,000 cap on individuals’ out-of-pocket costs for prescription drugs, leaving insurers, Medicare or Medicaid to pick up the rest. That’s down from the current $3,000. Trumpite Rep. Marjorie Taylor-Greene, R-Ga., proposed having no cap at all, thus sticking consumers with higher drug bills.
- Other Republicans supported dumping the three-year extension of the Affordable Care Act’s subsidies to low-income people who buy insurance through the ACA’s exchanges.
- Scott Guthrie, R-Ky., would ban Medicare from bargaining with Big Pharma to lower prescription drug prices—a move that would save $288 billion for the government—if the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office “determines these negotiations would lead to 10 fewer cures coming to market.”
- While Brobert proposed killing Manchin’s pipeline “bargaining chip,” Rep. Clay Higgins, R-La., wanted to kill the tradeoff that brought the other wavering Senate Democrat, Arizonan Kyrsten Sinema, into the fold: The 1% tax on corporate stock buybacks, which would raise $73 billion. The buybacks benefit firms and the rich.
- Garret Graves, R-La., would ban the entire bill from taking effect “if it raises taxes or the cost of living for people earning $80,000 yearly.” That didn’t fly, so he offered a second one to ban the bill if it hits people making under $400,000 yearly. It wasn’t considered.
- Five Republicans wanted to dump the 15% minimum tax on billion-dollar corporations that didn’t pay a penny to the Treasury. Another wanted to delay it for a year.
- Extreme right-wing Rep. Lauren Brobert, R-Colo., proposed repealing the estate tax, which Republicans call a “death tax.” The 2017 Trump-GOP $1.7 trillion tax cut for corporations and the rich, restricts the estate tax to estates above $5.5 million for a single person and $11 million for a couple.
- Brobert offered dozens of brainstorms to kill virtually all the “green” sections of the legislation, section by section and program by program. One that would die: Funding to replace much of the nation’s outmoded transmission grid. And she wanted to ban subsidies and tax credits to manufacture of electric vehicles and to individuals to “green” retrofit their homes.
- Budd, the North Carolinian, proposed deleting the higher royalties oil and gas firms would have to pay for drilling leases off the nation’s coasts. His amendment also mandated the government to “expedite and automatically approve compliant permit to drill applications.” Forget environmental impact.
Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People’s World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.