FACT CHECK: Are Republicans Trying To Eliminate Social Security, Medicare And Medicaid?

Shane Devine | Fact Check Reporter

Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island claimed that Republicans are seeking to “get rid of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.”

Verdict: False

Republican leaders have not called for entitlement programs to be eliminated, although they have said they are looking to reform the programs in the coming years.

Fact Check:

Whitehouse, who was re-elected on Tuesday, made the claim in a campaign ad.

“The Republicans have run enormous deficits up to provide tax cuts to big corporations, millionaires and billionaires,” he said. “Now that we have this deficit problem that we caused with our tax bill, they turn around and they say they got to get rid of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.”

While Republican leaders have said that entitlement programs need to be reformed, they have not called for their elimination.

An MSNBC article cited in Whitehouse’s ad mentions Rep. Steve Stivers, chair of the National Republican Congressional Committee, who expressed in August that bipartisan efforts are the only way to sustain entitlement programs.

“The only way we’re going to be able to fix Social Security and Medicare is for the two parties to come together – the way that Ronald Reagan did with Tip O’Neill – and figure out how to fix them together,” he said in an interview with CNBC.

Stivers was echoing the sentiments of party leaders like House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who argue that cuts to entitlements are needed to tackle the deficit.

“Frankly, it’s the health care entitlements that are the big drivers of our debt. So we spend more time on the health care entitlements because that’s really where the problem lies, fiscally speaking,” Ryan said on KHOW, a Denver talk radio station, in December 2017.

“It’s a bipartisan problem: unwillingness to address the real drivers of the debt by doing anything to adjust those programs to the demographics of America in the future,” McConnell told Bloomberg News in October.

In fiscal year 2018, nearly half ($1.95 trillion) of federal spending was directed toward the major entitlement programs: $977 billion was spent on Social Security, $585 billion on Medicare and $389 billion on Medicaid. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) reported an overall spending increase of $127 billion in FY 2018, with a $48 billion increase in those programs. Total federal spending in FY 2018 was $4.1 trillion, which was $779 billion more than what the government received in tax revenues.

The debt and deficit are also being driven by the fact that Congress cut taxes, lowering the amount of federal tax revenue the government takes in each year. In his ad, Whitehouse referred to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, which was passed by the GOP Congress. The bill reduced taxes on all income groups, but some groups received larger cuts. Income groups in the 95 to 99th percentile range received the largest cuts in proportion to their income, according to the Tax Policy Center.

Slashing revenue in this way will add $228 billion to the deficit in 2019 and $1.9 trillion over 11 years, according to the CBO. These figures factor in the economic growth spurred on by the tax cuts.

Instead of blaming the deficit on tax cuts, White House chief economic adviser Larry Kudlow said in September that the government has “spent too much” and that the White House would like to “slim that down as much as possible.”

“People are quick to blame deficits on tax cuts but I don’t buy that,” Kudlow said. “Tax cuts promote growth and wages.”

Kudlow has suggested that entitlement reform may be on the table for next year, referring to aspects of them as “burdens and inefficiencies.”

Experts say the cost of Medicare and Social Security will become insolvent within the next two decades. Medicare will become insolvent in 2026, according to the program’s trustees, and trust funds for Social Security will be depleted by 2034.

The trustees of Social Security and Medicare say that an aging Baby Boomer population, combined with lower fertility rates amongst younger generations are contributing to the funding shortfall.

Borrowing money to finance deficits will continue to add to the national debt. The fastest growing part of the federal budget is interest on the debt, which is set to nearly quadruple by 2028.

Although Republicans have called for bipartisan entitlement reform, they have sought to tackle certain programs without Democratic support in the past. In 2017, Republicans introduced a plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that would have block-granted Medicaid. It also sought to give states the option of imposing work requirements on able-bodied Medicaid users.

This would have resulted in $1 trillion in savings over 10 years on Medicaid, according to a preliminary analysis by the CBO. Republicans could not secure enough votes and decided to scrap the bill.

House Republicans more recently proposed a budget for 2019 that aims to cut $4.6 trillion from entitlement programs over a period of 10 years, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Specifically, there would be a $1.5 trillion cut to Medicaid and the ACA and a $537 billion cut to Medicare under the plan.

“Absent reform, reality will be harsh,” House Budget Committee Chairman Steve Womack said in June. “In fact, it’s not a matter of if but when programs will be unable to fulfill their promise.”

Whitehouse’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

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Shane Devine

Fact Check Reporter