U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn has signed a letter, along with 23 other Republican senators, that asks President Barack Obama to lead an effort to “address the challenges” of funding for Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
If Obama doesn’t, then, well, “it will be difficult, if not impossible, for us to support a further increase in the debt ceiling,” the letter states.
Essentially, Coburn and the other senators are arguing for reductions in these programs, at least for future recipients, and if they don’t get their way, they’re going to try to stop government funding that has already been determined by Congress, which recently continued tax cuts for the wealthy.
The letter, which was sent last week, argues:
While Congress is currently engaged in an important discussion on annual discretionary spending levels, the more significant long-term problem facing our country is the continued growth of mandatory spending programs. Federal expenditures on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are expected to double over the coming decade and represent an unsustainable portion of total government spending.
That’s political code for this: The country should raise the Social Security retirement age and reduce entitlement programs in other ways.
The letter refers favorably to the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform on which Coburn served. One of the commission’s proposals was to lower corporate income taxes even as it also argued for cuts in entitlement programs. It proposals were widely criticized. The commission even earned the nickname “Catfood Commission” because some people believed its proposals would reduce many people, especially the elderly, to abject poverty, forcing them to eat cat food in order to survive.
Coburn has a lot of support here in Oklahoma, especially in the corporate media, but the reality is that his push for reducing Social Security and Medicare benefits could dissipate much of that support if reported widely. Coburn, of course, is the master of the political stunt, and this letter he signed is along those lines. It remains to be seen how far Coburn will actually go when it comes to cutting popular entitlement programs.
Let’s be clear: Social Security is not facing a dire emergency, and it could be easily fixed for decades to come by raising the cap on payroll taxes on the country’s wealthiest citizens. A public health insurance option, through consolidation and size, could create a stronger, more efficient health care system. The solutions are there, but Coburn is apparently not interested. Threatening to cutoff the government’s access to funding by rejecting a rise in the debt ceiling just cheapens the political debate.
It the end, it’s all about ideology, not substance. The New York Times columnist and economist Paul Krugman wrote last year:
What’s really going on here? Conservatives hate Social Security for ideological reasons: its success undermines their claim that government is always the problem, never the solution. But they receive crucial support from Washington insiders, for whom a declared willingness to cut Social Security has long served as a badge of fiscal seriousness, never mind the arithmetic.