Senate Republicans are proposing something that President Donald Trump promised never to do: cut hundreds of billions of dollars from Medicare, the federal health program that covers elderly Americans.
On Friday, Republican staff sent members of the Senate Budget Committee proposals that included reducing Medicare spending by approximately $450 billion over the next 10 years, according to tables provided to Vox.
The cuts, released in conjunction with the 2018 Republican Senate budget resolution proposal, are ultimately up to the Senate committees to propose. Even if they make it into the committee’s proposal, they would have virtually no chance of being enacted, as it would need to garner support from eight Democrats to pass the 60-vote threshold in the Senate.
But they represent a clear break from Trump, who has repeatedly insisted that his Republican-led administration would not make changes to Medicare. The House also proposed changes to Medicare in its version of the budget over the summer that would similarly be dead on arrival in the Senate.
“It’s one of those things that everyone can agree — that Medicare is in need of reform,” a top Republican Senate aide told Vox when prompted with the president’s assurances to the American people that Medicare would not be on the chopping block.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) — the ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee — criticized Republicans for releasing a plan that he said contradicted the president’s promises. “This budget is the Robin Hood principle in reverse,” Sanders said in a statement. “At a time of massive income and wealth inequality, the Republican budget takes from the middle class and those in need, and gives huge tax breaks to the wealthiest people in this country.”
Trump promised again and again to protect Medicare — but GOP deficit hawks keep defying him
This isn’t the first time congressional Republicans have tried to break away from Trump’s promise not to touch Medicare. House Republicans and Speaker Paul Ryan have for years drawn up plans that would allow them to make deep cuts the program.
It’s a priority the GOP hasn’t been eager to surrender. In June, Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK), who sits on the House Budget Committee and is the chair of the appropriations subcommittee that manages health spending, called Trump’s promise to leave Medicare and Social Security and balance the budget a “fantasy.” Yet on the campaign trail, Trump promised the American people over and over again that his administration would not touch Social Security and Medicare funding. (Trump’s own budget proposal to Congress included cuts to Social Security Disability Insurance.)
“We have been talking about Medicare and Medicaid reform all the way through,” Cole told Vox then. “I’m not asking the president to abandon his principles. He is the president of the United States. He doesn’t have to sign something. But we shouldn’t abandon ours either.”
Just because they have a political construct that they ran on — with all due respect, if you are not willing to tackle Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare, you are not ever getting a balanced budget, and to pretend otherwise is a fantasy. … People have cast those votes [on Medicare] before. I wouldn’t give up any of the places where we have been aggressive in the past.
Republicans, who in the coming months are looking to pass what is shaping up to be a massive tax cut — in addition to increasing defense spending and non-defense spending — are having a difficult time finding ways to taper the deficit.
Trump only tied their hands further when he said Social Security and Medicare were off limits.