Election 2022: Republican takeover blueprint endangers Social Security, Medicare
The GOP plan for America, rolled out by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, is a wish list of right wong social aims and goals they hope to enact into law if they prevail in the elections. | Andrew Harnik/AP

WASHINGTON—Remember Newt Gingrich’s “Contract With America,” the Republican blueprint for what they’d do if they took over the U.S. House in 1995—which they did? Well, with Gingrich standing by his side in late September, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., unveiled his modernized 122-page version.

And for Social Security and Medicare recipients, and workers, it’s as bad or worse than Gingrich’s original, which foes—including workers–relabeled “The Contract On America.”

Given that pundits, prognosticators and even some congressional Democrats believe the Republicans will gain on November 8 the handful of House seats they need for a takeover, the holy horrors outlined in the new “Blueprint To Save America” become a real possibility.

As might be expected, workers and their allies were the first to blow the whistle on McCarthy’s updated and more-complex version of Gingrich’s program.

“About half of workers are projected to retire in poverty. If (the) GOP takes control, they’ll make this impending apocalypse worse by gutting Social Security & Medicare & attacking working folks’ pensions. A much bigger issue for voters than many pundits realize,” tweeted Steve Smith, the former communications director for the California Labor Federation who still works closely with the organization.

The pension reference is tucked into McCarthy’s plan. He’d repeal the Butch Lewis Act. Led by Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, lawmakers and union legislative reps crafted it to restore solvency to financially troubled multi-employer pension plans without cutting retirees’ and survivors’ benefits. The 2008 financier-caused crash plunged those plans deep into the red.

Details buried

How bad is the overall Republican scheme? Well, it’s so chock full of details that the following proposal is buried on page 114 of the 122-page treatise:

“Eliminate the National Labor Relations Board. The DOJ (Justice Department)  already oversees a wide variety of civil, criminal, and administrative issues, including anti-trust and voting rights. DOJ is certainly capable of handling claims of illegal labor practices and could do so without the pro-union boss bias and partisanship endemic to the National Labor Relations Board. Eliminating the NLRB would save more than $274 million annually based on FY2022 funding.”

Workers and their allies started sounding the alarm about Republican plans when Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., a former hospital chain (Columbia HCA) CEO who chairs the party’s campaign committee, proposed in writing, putting Social Security and Medicare up for renewal every five years. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., who seeks re-election this fall, wants renewal to come up yearly. His foe, Lieut. Gov. Mandela Barnes (D), promptly jumped on Johnson.

Putting Social Security and Medicare up for grabs every year would “coax” retirees back to work, Johnson told a tele-town hall. Never mind that millions must keep working because Social Security benefits alone aren’t enough to live on, especially for people with no pensions.

The Alliance for Retired Americans points out Johnson—like Republican President George W. Bush in 2005—wants to turn Social Security over to Wall Street. Democratic President Joe Biden, who is strongly pro-union and pro-worker, criticized that. So did Robert Roach, the former top Machinists leader who’s now the alliance’s president.

“Making progress in a country as complicated as ours clearly has never been easy,” Biden tweeted after learning of Scott’s scheme. “That’s why when we build things that matter like Medicare and Social Security, we fight like hell to protect them. Congressional Republicans want to put them on the chopping block every five years.”

“Alliance members need to make sure all seniors know their earned benefits are at stake this November,” Roach said in a statement. “Seniors should pay close attention to this issue and make sure they turn out to elect candidates who will protect the retirement and health benefits they have earned.”

McCarthy’s manifesto, authored by the Republican Study Committee, a right-wing bloc which includes more than 80% of all House Republicans, has so far flown under the voters’ radar. So is the damage detailed in the document which the leader and his Trumpite minions could inflict on the country should they take power on November 8.

That’s because several McCarthy lieutenants, who would chair committees dealing with those programs and with the budget, are scheming how to hold the government, the nation and the world economy hostage unless and until they get their way.

Their vehicle: Threatening the U.S. would default on its past debts, covering interest payments for federal programs, by not raising (breaching) the federal debt ceiling. That’s called defaulting on your debts.

A default by the government whose currency is the world’s “gold standard” would literally cause worldwide financial chaos and an enormous crash and depression. Republicans used that default threat against Barack Obama, to force him to accept budget cuts.

Michael Hiltzig, business columnist for the Los Angeles Times, brought the issue down to what would happen to seniors and others here at home.

Dire consequences

“The economic consequences of breaching the debt ceiling are dire. Payments on existing debt would be halted, as would Social Security checks, Medicare reimbursements to doctors and hospitals and paychecks to military families,” he wrote. Among other things.

Hiltzig also pointed out McCarthy and some of his colleagues couch their cuts in blather about “entitlements reform.” Those are code words for cuts and flat-out lies considering how many millions of workers and retirees earned those benefits by having payroll taxes deducted from their paychecks for decades.

Mainstream media pundits pontificate McCarthy’s manifesto is full of generalities. They’re wrong. Instead, it’s full of specifics. Other demands include:

  • Raising the initial retirement age for Social Security and Medicare benefits to 70. Workers now can retire on reduced benefits, starting at 62, with increases until full benefits at 70. Republicans justify the retirement age hike by saying people live longer.

Never mind that life expectancy for male workers of color is two full years less than that of white colleagues—and that life expectancy for everyone has declined since 2019, due to the coronavirus pandemic. Republicans don’t admit their former boss, Donald Trump bungled that.

Besides most retirees can’t afford to wait. “They need the money and can’t continue working,” Hirtzig wrote. He quoted Social Security’s own statistics: 37% of retirees start collecting benefits—reduced, remember—at age 62, and more than half do so before age 65.

“Only about 6.7% can afford to wait until age 70. Force people to wait, and more than 98% of future beneficiaries would be left behind.” Buried in its text, the Republican plan also proposes “flatter Social Security benefits” for anyone retiring after 2030. How flatter? No word.

  • Repeal of the recent law, enacted by the narrowly Democratic Congress on party lines and signed by Biden, to limit seniors’ out-of-pocket expenses for prescription drugs, starting in several years.
  • That same section also would cost the government almost $300 billion, because it would strip Medicare of its power to bargain down Big Pharma’s drug prices. Since 1990, OpenSecrets.org reports, drug firm campaign committees shoveled $137 million (60%) to Republicans and $92 million (40%) to Democrats.
  • A ban on tax increases. That includes tax increases to balance the budget, which the Republicans want to mandate by resurrecting a favorite scheme: The balanced budget constitutional amendment.
  • “Provide workers the freedom to choose how to save their own money for retirement.” Lawmakers should “consider legislative options that allow employers and employees to reduce their payroll tax liability and use those savings to invest in private retirement options,” a bonanza for—and at the mercy of—Wall Street.

Since the Republican plan concentrates on money issues, it has fewer non-cash policy recommendations. But two are longtime anti-worker party and corporate favorites: Enacting a national right-to-work act and legalizing comp time instead of overtime pay.

The plan also cuts all money for battling climate change. Those funds are a top Biden and labor priority, given that both want climate change jobs to be union jobs.


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.