The GOP’s House Minority Leader, John Boehner, appeared opposite Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday over the weekend and doubled down on last week’s pledge to avoid talking about any sort of actual policy proposal to deal with the unsustainable growth of entitlement spending. He said he wants to have an “adult conversation” about runaway entitlements, but apparently that doesn’t include any discussion whatsoever of what he and his party propose to do about some of the biggest drivers of federal spending and deficits. Here’s the key exchange:
WALLACE: But forgive me, sir. I mean, isn't the right time to have the adult conversation now before the election when you have this document? Why not make a single proposal to cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid?
BOEHNER: Chris, this is what happens here in Washington. When you start down that path, you just invite all kinds of problems. I know. I've been there. I think we need to do this in a more systemic way and have this conversation first. Let's not get to the potential solutions. Let's make sure Americans understand how big the problem is. Then we can begin to talk about possible solutions and then work ourselves into those solutions that are doable.
The “adult conversation” line is really laying it on thick considering that what he’s actually demonstrating is that, at best, the GOP wants to baby voters through the basics of the entitlement situation before actually broaching the topic of specific policy changes.
Obviously many Republicans are afraid of political blowback from any proposal that could be portrayed as a cut to Medicare or Social Security, both of which have large constituencies that vote consistently. And to some extent that’s a legitimate fear, at least from a purely political standpoint; after all, one of the most effective (if frustrating) Republican attacks on the new health care law was that it cuts Medicare. But this fear fails to realize that proposals to control spending on entitlement programs are in fact proposals to preserve and strengthen those programs. Paul Ryan’s Roadmap, whatever its flaws, wouldn’t change Medicare a bit for anyone who is within 10 years of entering the program, and, perhaps with some adjustments, would at least set the program (as well at the federal budget) on a rough path to long-term sustainability.
In a way, though, Boehner is correct that “this is what happens here in Washington”: Voters become angry about government debt and spending. And so they turn to the GOP, which runs on a loud but vague campaign to cut spending and then, once in power, follows through by cutting taxes but not spending, thereby making the problem worse.