Representative Rehberg Votes to Gut Social Security and Medicare

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Representative Rehberg used Montana’s sole vote in the House of Representatives today to vote an economic proposal that the National Economic Council called “extreme, radical, [and] unprecedented,” a proposal that Ezra Klein called a waste of “precious time on bad policy,” and I call yet another attempt to divert the American public from the real Republican agenda: pretending that they can “balance the budget” without enacting a single cut in entitlements for the elderly or expenditures in the military.

It’s a farce far more worth discussing than Rupert Murdoch’s pie in the face today, but one likely to get lost in the shuffle of Casey Anthony news.

The non-partisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities makes it clear that the bill Rehberg voted for today would lead to deep cuts in Medicare and Social Security:

Talking points that the legislation’s proponents circulated on July 15 seek to foster an impression that the measure would protect Social Security and Medicare.  Such an impression would not be accurate.  The legislation would inexorably subject Social Security and Medicare to deep reductions.

The measure does not cut Social Security or Medicare in 2012.  And it does not subject them to automatic cuts if its global spending caps are missed.  It is inconceivable, however, that policymakers would meet the bill’s severe annual spending caps through automatic across-the-board cuts year after year; if they did, key government functions would be crippled.

Don’t believe them? How about the Strengthen Social Security Campaign:

Voting in favor of the Cut, Cap and Balance Act and the BBA is to vote for draconian cuts to Social Security. These measures will result in a huge and outrageous raid on the Social Security Trust Fund, which is paid for by those who contribute to it. Social Security should not be treated as a piggybank used to reduce the deficit or to fund continued tax breaks or new spending.

The Concord Coalition, hardly a bastion of liberalism, pointed out the irony of the freedom-loving Constitutionalists in the Republican Party passing this absurd amendment:

The amendment being considered this week, however, is something different. By including an arbitrary limit on spending — 18 percent of GDP — while also enshrining a super-majority requirement for tax increases, this proposal departs from the broad principle of budget balance.

“The goal of limiting debt can be achieved at any particular size of government and can be implemented through both spending and tax policies. These decisions are best left to the regular legislative process as they may change over time due to circumstances and the will of the people to set priorities,” said Robert L. Bixby, executive director of The Concord Coalition.

“The whole point of a balanced budget amendment is to ensure that future generations are free to make their own fiscal decisions. It is inconsistent with that freedom to forever mandate a particular level of spending or to permanently favor spending cuts over revenue increases as the manner of managing these decisions,” Bixby said.

In other words, they’re doing three things:

  1. They’re making it inevitable that future Congresses will have to make deep cuts in Medicare.
  2. They’re pretending to protect those programs while forcing future Congresses to do the heavy lifting and taking the electoral heat for doing so.
  3. They’re demagoguing and dissembling about an issue they define as critically important, demonstrating that party politics are more important than policy solutions to a very real, immediate threat of default.

If Representative Rehberg and his party had the courage of their convictions, they’d pass their budget and tell their constituents exactly what they would cut from the budget—not in two years or four, but immediately so that voters can make an informed choice, to see if their priorities align with what the Republicans really want to do.

Of course, as always, Representative Rehberg offered his own special brand of hypocrisy. Despite having trumpeted around the state that he bucked his party to protect Medicare, Rehberg voted today to make significant cuts and changes in the program inevitable.

Not only that, but the same Representative who keeps refusing to take a position on issue after issue because there hasn’t been enough time to talk to the people of Montana, voted today to amend the Constitution without even a hearing in Congress:

Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) argued during debate on the rule that such a dramatic change is being proposed without any committee debate or even much warning about the contents of the bill.

“Here we are today considering legislation that would fundamentally transform the United States economy, gut many of the programs like Social Security and Medicare that millions of Americans rely upon, and make radical changes to the Constitution, and the Republican majority of the Rules Committee has brought it to the floor under a closed rule,” McGovern said. “No hearings, no witness, no markups, no nothing.”

In the end, it’s possible that Rehberg could take the principled, if wrong, position that what America needs today is to immediately balance the budget, but it’s only principled if he tells you what he would cut.

The next time Representative Rehberg visits your community or your newsroom, don’t just let him talk about “balancing the budget.” Make him outline the deep cuts that student loans, agricultural subsidies, Head Start, public health, Medicare, and Social Security, just to name a few, would face as a result of this political stunt.

If you appreciate our efforts to hold Montana Republicans accountable and the independent journalism here at The Montana Post, please consider supporting our work with a small pledge.

About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba is an eighteen-year teacher of English, former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.

His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.

In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.

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