Reforming Social Security And Medicare ‘Off The Table’ In Debt Negotiations, McCarthy Says
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 07: U.S. Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) delivers remarks after being elected as Speaker in the House Chamber at the U.S. Capitol Building on January 07, 2023 in Washington, DC. After four days of voting and 15 ballots McCarthy secured enough votes to become Speaker of the House for the 118th Congress.
Win McNamee via Getty Images

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) said that spending cuts to Social Security and Medicare are “off the table” as lawmakers seek to fund the government while reducing deficits.

McCarthy plans to meet with President Joe Biden on Wednesday to discuss possible budget cuts after the debt ceiling, an arbitrary cap on the national debt established by Congress, exceeded the statutory limit of nearly $31.4 trillion. The lawmaker said multiple times during an interview with CBS senior foreign affairs correspondent Margaret Brennan on Sunday that Republicans would not offer to reduce allocations for Social Security and Medicare.

“Let’s take those off the table,” McCarthy said when asked about the programs. “If you read our Commitment to America, all we talk about is strengthening Medicare and Social Security.”

Social Security, Medicare, and other health initiatives constituted 46% of the federal budget during the last fiscal year, according to data from the Treasury Department. In order to balance the budget while exempting defense, veteran benefits, Social Security, and Medicare from cuts, all other federal spending would have to be reduced 85%, according to an analysis from the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.

McCarthy, who presides over a narrow majority in the House of Representatives, expressed a willingness to examine defense programs for unnecessary waste. “I want to make sure we’re protected in our defense spending, but I want to make sure it’s effective and efficient. I want to look at every single dollar we’re spending, no matter where it’s being spent. I want to eliminate waste wherever it is,” he continued. “Like every single household, like every single state, we shouldn’t just print more money. We should balance our budget.”

Keeping veteran and defense spending intact would require 33% spending reductions for all other federal programs, including Social Security and Medicare, according to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. The average annual benefit for a new retiree would thus decrease by $13,000, while as many as 25 million recipients of Medicare would lose eligibility.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warned lawmakers that the “extraordinary measures” adopted by her agency to keep the government solvent will last only until June. Brennan pressed McCarthy on whether he would commit to avoiding a default on obligations at all costs.

“We have hundreds of billions of dollars. This won’t come to fruition until some time this June. So the responsible thing to do is sit down like two adults and start having that discussion. Unfortunately the White House was saying before that they wouldn’t even talk. I’m thankful that we’re meeting on Wednesday, but that’s exactly what we should be doing,” McCarthy responded. “What has happened with the debt limit is we’ve reached our credit card limit. Should we just continue to raise the limit, or should we look at what we’re spending?”

Republican lawmakers struck a deal with McCarthy under which the party’s new majority will introduce a budget that refrains from increasing the debt ceiling. The national debt exceeded $31.5 trillion even as maintenance costs soar due to a higher interest rate environment. An analysis from economists at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School recently found that a 30% decrease in spending or a 40% increase in taxation would be necessary to handle current spending and future obligations.

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