What Republicans want to cut

Republican speaker Kevin McCarthy is due to meet with president Joe Biden on Wednesday. What about? It depends. According to the White House, the talks will be about raising the debt ceiling and avoiding a default. According to McCarthy, it is about what kind of budget cuts Biden will agree to in exchange for raising the debt ceiling.

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy said Sunday he is looking forward to discussing with President Joe Biden a “reasonable and responsible way that we can lift the debt ceiling ” when the two meet Wednesday for their first sit-down at the White House since McCarthy was elected to the post.

McCarthy, R-Calif., said he wants to address spending cuts along with raising the debt limit, even though the White House has ruled out linking those two issues together as the government tries to avoid a potentially devastating financial default.

Asked whether he would make a guarantee, McCarthy said, “There will not be a default,” though he suggested that declaration depended on the willingness of Biden and Democrats to negotiate.

The White House on Sunday confirmed Wednesday’s meeting on “a range of issues.” It said Biden looked forward to “strengthening his working relationship” with McCarthy and to asking about the speaker’s plan on spending, noting that the first House bill passed by Republicans this year to slash IRS funding would ultimately increase the deficit.

Republicans want to cut spending on programs that benefit the poor but they don’t want to come right out and say so because those programs are popular and cutting them would be utterly cruel and they do not want to face the blowback. So they want to have Biden and the Democrats agree to the cuts so that they share the blame.

What are the things they want to cut? McCarthy says that Social Security and Medicare will not be touched, though cuts there have been longstanding goals of the right wing. This is likely because his boss Donald Trump told Republicans not to touch those programs.

Biden himself has scoffed at the idea of negotiating spending cuts, telling Democratic congressional leaders last week that Republicans were “genuinely serious about cutting Social Security, cutting Medicare.”

On Sunday, when McCarthy was asked if he would push cuts to those programs, he said, “Let’s take those off the table.” Pressed on possible defense cuts that he may have promised to House conservatives, McCarthy responded: “I want to eliminate waste wherever it is. … I want to look at every single department.”

Washington Rep. Adam Smith, the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, said his party supports a clear fiscal plan for the future but that Republicans have been disingenuous in addressing the issue.

“We shouldn’t be negotiating over whether or not we should pay our bills. That’s our position,” Smith told “Fox News Sunday.” “Right now, the Republicans don’t have a plan. Their plan, as led by the extremists in their party, is to complain about spending, not raise the debt ceiling, but not actually offer a plan that says, ‘This is what we’re going to cut.’”

Kevin Drum says that it is no secret at all about what McCarthy and the Republicans want to cut but that they are playing a familiar game of being coy to hide their intentions.

I think we’ve seen this movie enough times to know exactly what they want to cut:

  • Stuff that helps poor people: Medicaid, SNAP, Section 8, the EITC, WIC, Pell Grants, TANF, CHIP, SSI, school lunches, ACA subsidies, and probably some programs I’ve never heard of.

Beyond this they’re likely to target a few programs related to climate change, wokeness, oil drilling, and anything else they can dig up that appeals to the MAGA crowd. It won’t amount to much, though.

For those not familiar with the alphabet soup of government programs listed by Drum, here is what they stand for.

  • Medicaid “provides health coverage to millions of Americans, including eligible low-income adults, children, pregnant women, elderly adults and people with disabilities.”
  • SNAP stands for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program that “provides nutrition benefits to supplement the food budget of needy families so they can purchase healthy food and move towards self-sufficiency.”
  • Section 8 is a housing voucher program “for assisting very low-income families, the elderly, and the disabled to afford decent, safe, and sanitary housing in the private market.”
  • EITC stands for Earned Income Tax Credit that “helps low- to moderate-income workers and families get a tax break.”
  • WIC stands for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children that “provides federal grants to states for supplemental foods, health care referrals, and nutrition education for low-income pregnant, breastfeeding, and non-breastfeeding postpartum women, and to infants and children up to age 5 who are found to be at nutritional risk.”
  • Pell Grants are usually awarded to “undergraduate students who display exceptional financial need and have not earned a bachelor’s, graduate, or professional degree.”
  • TANF stands for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families that “provides states and territories with flexibility in operating programs designed to help low-income families with children achieve economic self-sufficiency.  States use TANF to fund monthly cash assistance payments to low-income families with children, as well as a wide range of services.”
  • CHIP stands for Children’s Health Insurance Program that “provides health coverage to eligible children, through both Medicaid and separate CHIP programs.”
  • SSI stands for Supplemental Security Income that “provides monthly payments to adults and children with a disability or blindness who have income and resources below specific financial limits. SSI payments are also made to people age 65 and older without disabilities who meet the financial qualifications.”
  • School lunches refers to the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) that “provides nutritionally balanced, low-cost or free lunches to children each school day.”
  • ACA subsidies provide “sliding-scale subsidies to lower premiums and out-of-pocket (OOP) costs for eligible individuals” so that they can buy health insurance.

To want to cut any of these programs is to reveal yourself to be a heartless person and that is exactly what McCarthy and his Republican cronies are but are seeking to avoid lrevealing themselves to be.

It is clear that Republicans do not actually care about the deficit increasing because they fall over themselves in their eagerness to reduce taxes on the wealthy, that causes the deficit to balloon by huge amounts. The deficit is only brought in when they see a chance to stick it to the poor.

There are some concerns that Biden, who likes to think of himself as being able to strike a compromise with his political opponents, might be willing to partially go ahead with McCarthy’s scheme. One hopes not and that he puts forward a budget that preserves these programs and forces Republicans to raise the debt ceiling anyway. His State of the Union speech to be delivered on February 7th will be indicative of his intentions.


  1. raven says

    What are the things they want to cut? McCarthy says that Social Security and Medicare will not be touched, though cuts there have been longstanding goals of the right wing.

    Which is cosmically stupid to attack Social Security and Medicare.

    Both Social Security and Medicare are self funding programs.
    They don’t add one penny to the National Debt or the annual deficit.
    The cruelty is the whole point and only point of attacking these programs.

    Social Security is on trend to run out of their surplus money in 2033.
    In today’s world with a planning horizon of two weeks, 2033 might as well be forever.

  2. sonofrojblake says

    CHIP stands for Children’s Health Insurance Program that “provides health coverage to eligible children, through both Medicaid and separate CHIP programs.”

    I’d be ashamed to live in a country where such a program exists, or has to. The idea that there’s an eligibility test for health coverage for anyone, much less children, should be an affront to any rational mind.

  3. consciousness razor says

    There are some concerns that Biden, who likes to think of himself as being able to strike a compromise with his political opponents, might be willing to partially go ahead with McCarthy’s scheme.

    Pfft, Biden’s self-conception as a great compromiser is hardly the big reason to be concerned.

    He spent his entire career calling for exactly the same shit as these extremist Republicans, because he is also a clown.

    The Intercept put together a pretty decent summary of this back in January 2020:

    As early as 1984 and as recently as 2018, former Vice President Joe Biden called for cuts to Social Security in the name of saving the program and balancing the federal budget.


    “When I argued that we should freeze federal spending, I meant Social Security as well,” he told the Senate in 1995. “I meant Medicare and Medicaid. I meant veterans’ benefits. I meant every single solitary thing in the government. And I not only tried it once, I tried it twice, I tried it a third time, and I tried it a fourth time.” (A freeze would have reduced the amount that would be paid out, cutting the program’s benefit.)

    “The truth is the last election did one thing,” Biden continued. “I do not know whether it really made you guys a majority party for long. I do not know. We will find out. I know one thing it did. What it did was it made sure that there was nobody left on the left in my party who, in fact, said we do not care about moving the budget toward balance.”

  4. consciousness razor says

    Marcus, you can’t speak seriously about the military without wanting to dramatically reduce its horrible influence on the entire fucking planet. You can however speak seriously about the federal debt and deficit without claiming it somehow means we need to cut spending.

  5. consciousness razor says

    I mean, the argument is going something like this: “oh, we need to cut the budget? Then let’s go after the military, because that’s fucking huge and it sucks.”

    It is true that it’s fucking huge and it sucks. But in fact we don’t need to slash the budget like this. Also, you must realize that none of these cretins will actually cut military spending of all things. That would be the last thing to go, just before they decided to give up entirely on all of it and start over with a different country.

    So, all you’ve effectively done is granted them the premise for free that we need to cut spending on lots of stuff (in such a way that it would amount to something very big, such as the military), which is false. That is the bad thing we don’t want them doing.

  6. Lassi Hippeläinen says

    Biden should sell Florida to Cuba, and use the proceeds to pay off some debt. As a bonus, he would get rid of Trump.

  7. says

    If I could, I would buy everyone a copy of Kelton’s “The Deficit Myth”. Even if you have doubts about MMT, the book makes a strong argument that we go about the federal budget in pretty much exactly the wrong way.

    Further, I recall reading some studies a few years back that showed that most Americans do not have an accurate notion of what the federal budget contains in proportion. And seeing that you have to actively dig around to find out, for example, just how much we allocate to pre-K or NASA versus the F-35 program, I suspect that the media, politicians, and the donor class do not want people to know. Of course, many Americans are innumerate, so saying “billions of dollars!” is scary enough.

    And speaking of the military budget, does anyone know of another department that routinely gets a bigger budget than they asked for? In 40+ years of work I have never seen this happen to my section/department. Also, rather interesting that items such as the Veterans Administration and nuclear weapons are not accounted as part of the “military budget”. Hmm, I wonder why?

    Look, even if we had a budget surplus, I would guarantee that the GOP would not go along with increasing social spending. You might as well ask a person to cut off their own arm. They just can’t do it. The GOP will always find a way to thrust money upwards into the hands of the donor class. Anything else they say about deficits is a red herring. Don’t believe it? Well, I seem to remember the last time we had a surplus (from Clinton), George W. was really keen on privatizing Social Security. What could go wrong? It literally took a global economic meltdown a few years later to pull that off the table. But I’ll also guarantee that “it’s not dead yet”. You’ll be hearing about privatizing Social Security sooner than you think.

  8. says

    “I’d be ashamed to live in a country where such a program exists, or has to. ”

    I do, and I am. A major problem in the USA is a disconnect between the way people see themselves and their society, and the way things really are. An example I often use is: It is not uncommon to see a fund-raiser in a small town to help parents afford some expensive medical care (cancer treatments, heart surgery, etc.) for their sick child. Invariably, people will say what a positive thing this is and that it shows the caring of the average American. “Only in America!” they will cry. I have no doubt that many Americans are caring people. And I agree with “only in America”, but only because in a more civilized and caring nation, there would never be a need for such a fund-raiser. No child (or adult) would have to forgo life-saving treatment because it was “too expensive” for them.

  9. lanir says

    This is one of those things where the cruelty actually isn’t the point. Odd, I know, it so often is. But here? The motive is clear. The looting is the point. They want to enable themselves and their buddies to go fishing for dollars and just happen to find some in your pockets. That’s been the Republican plan for social security for decades. It works too well so they want to scrap it and replace it with something modeled after the healthcare system instead.

    It’s always a bit awkward to hear someone talk about paying bills in a “reasonable and responsible way” as though they’d invented some fantastic new way to do so. Sorry to spoil the surprise but they haven’t. You get good and services and then you pay for them. It’s not complex enough for new ideas and wild theories. As an adult you just do it.

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