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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 10/18/18

The Austerity Hawks Are Coming for Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid

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Less than a year ago, Mitch McConnell assured Americans that his $1.5 trillion program of tax cuts for billionaires and multinational corporations would not increase debts and deficits. "I not only don't think it will increase the deficit, I think it will be beyond revenue neutral," the Senate majority leader chirped."In other words, I think it will produce more than enough to fill that gap."

Even as assessments by groups such as nonpartisan analysts and watchdog groups predicted that McConnell's Tax Cuts and Jobs Act would push the federal deficit to $1 trillion and beyond, the Kentucky Republican declared that the measure he and House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, steered to passage last December was a "revenue neutral tax reform bill."

Now, amid reports that the deficit had grown by 17 percent to almost $800 billion in fiscal year 2018, and that it is headed toward--you guessed it--the $1 trillion mark, McConnell says it's not his fault. Nor, he claims, is it the fault of the billionaires and corporations he and Ryan represent.

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"It's disappointing but it's not a Republican problem," the Republican leader said when asked this week about Bloomberg reporting that detailed how "the Treasury Department said the US budget deficit grew to $779 billion in Donald Trump's first full fiscal year as president, the result of the GOP's tax cuts, bipartisan spending increases and rising interest payments on the national debt" and noted that this represents "a 77 percent increase from the $439 billion deficit in fiscal 2015, when McConnell became majority leader."

The blame, said McConnell, lies with "a bipartisan reluctance to tackle entitlement changes because of the popularity of those programs." While most Republicans try to talk around the issue--for obvious reasons--McConnell admits that "we're talking about Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid."

The majority leader is lying.

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A substantial portion of the blame for these deficits is on him. According to a new analysis from the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, the McConnell-Ryan tax measure "is projected to add about $230 billion to the deficit, including its effects on interest costs and economic growth." At the same time, the McConnell-Ryan budget for 2018, with its massive increase in military spending, "is projected to add another $190 billion."

"Taken together, legislation enacted in FY 2018 will add $445 billion to next year's deficit, enough to explain nearly half of the near trillion-dollar deficits the country is likely to face," explains the nonpartisan, nonprofit watchdog group.

McConnell is not a stupid man. He did not misjudge or miscalculate. Though he is a career politician with no real private-sector experience, the Senate's top Republican is sophisticated enough to understand that massive tax cuts combined with massive increases in defense spending will increase deficits. Unfortunately, he also understands that fears about burgeoning deficits can be exploited by cynical politicians to achieve what might otherwise be impossible.

McConnell and Ryan represent Wall Street interests that for years have been salivating at the prospect of using privatization schemes to get their hands on so-called "entitlement programs." Republicans leaders may present their austerity agenda as an effort to "rescue" Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. But austerity "rescues" have never been about helping the people who rely on those programs.

To think otherwise is to be as gullible as Charlie Brown when he runs for the football that Lucy has once again promised to hold in place for him.

What is surprising is that McConnell has telegraphed his intentions just weeks before 2018 Senate and House elections, revealing precisely the calculus that Democrats such as Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren have warned about:

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Step 1: GOP explodes the deficit with $1.5 trillion in tax giveaways to wealthy donors.

Step 2: GOP uses the deficit they created as an excuse to slash Social Security and Medicare.

For Americans who do not want to spend the next several years dancing to what Warren describes as McConnell's "shameless and destructive two-step"--a manufactured crisis followed by debates about cuts and privatization--there is an alternative.

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John Nichols, a pioneering political blogger, has written the Online Beat since 1999. His posts have been circulated internationally, quoted in numerous books and mentioned in debates on the floor of Congress.

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