Senate Republicans proclaimed on Friday that they have the votes to pass a $1.5 trillion tax bill whose contents have been kept secret from virtually everyone except corporate lobbyists. Progressive lawmakers and activists are once more warning that the GOP is planning to use the massive deficit hole its plan would create to justify taking a sledgehammer to Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security—a ploy one group has termed the "tax two-step."
Indivisible released a video explaining the tactic, which has been utilized by Republicans for decades—but which might now be deployed on a scale never seen.
Despite this being one of the oldest tricks in the GOP playbook, it has received relatively little attention compared to the tax bill's estimated trillion-dollar deficit impact. But as the plan has inched toward passage over the past 24 hours, media outlets have increasingly honed in on what Politico called the "historic spending cuts" the Republican bill could trigger.
"Mark my words: As soon as the Republican tax bill passes, Republicans are going to insist on cutting Medicare and Social Security to cut the deficit."
—Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)
"Unless Congress acts swiftly to stop it, as much as $150 billion per year would be cut from initiatives ranging from farm subsidies to student loans to support services for crime victims," Politico reported late Thursday. "Medicare alone could see cuts of $25 billion a year. And the specter of those cuts has thrust Congress into a high-stakes game of political chicken."
Trump, as Stein notes, has given repeated nods toward "welfare reform"—despite promising during the presidential campaign to shield Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security from cuts—while Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) has argued that the government must "bring spending under control."
"The driver of our debt is the structure of Social Security and Medicare for future beneficiaries," Rubio claimed.
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These remarks immediately set off alarm bells for progressive lawmakers and activists, who have argued persistently over the last several weeks that slashing social programs has been the Republicans' end goal all along.
"What's coming next is all too predictable: The deficit hawks will come flying back after this bill becomes law," Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) told the Post. "Republicans are already saying 'entitlement reform' and 'welfare reform' are next up on the docket. But nobody should be fooled—that's just code for attacks on Medicaid, on Medicare, on Social Security, on anti-hunger programs."
"Mark my words: As soon as the Republican tax bill passes, Republicans are going to insist on cutting Medicare and Social Security to cut the deficit," Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) added in a tweet Friday. "We cannot let this disastrous bill pass."
As Common Dreams reported earlier this week, Sanders has already sent a letter to the GOP leadership demanding to know what programs Republicans plan to slash in order to offset the trillion dollar deficit their legislation is expected to create, should it pass.
In an exchange with Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) on the Senate floor Thursday evening, Sanders reiterated his concerns and asked his GOP colleague to "guarantee the people of this country that after this bill passes, you will not come back [and] raise the retirement age, voucherize Medicare," and impose cuts to Social Security and other crucial safety net programs.
Toomey dodged and refused to make any such guarantee, leading Sanders to declare, "Ah, there it is! He just let the cat out of the box."
Tonight I asked my Republican colleague Sen. Toomey to guarantee to the American people there would not be cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid after this tax bill. He couldn't do that. pic.twitter.com/Svd2F8o2Ny
— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) December 1, 2017