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Where is Congressional Republicans Budget Plan? They Have a Spending Problem

March 27, 2023

By David Leonhardt


Congressional Republicans say that they will insist on large cuts to federal spending as they prepare for a budget showdown later this year with President Biden. So far, though, they have left out some pretty important details: what those cuts might be.

They sure like to talk about what they won’t cut.

Leaders have “promised” not to touch Medicare and Social Security, or reductions in military spending and veterans’ benefits.

The largest remaining category involves health care spending that benefits lower income families, including from Medicaid and Obamacare and food stamps. The party is signaling (once again) that they will propose reductions to these programs.

But cuts like these would have a big potential downside for Republicans: According to a study by the University of Southern California, almost 70 percent of House Republicans represent districts where the median income is lower than the national median, by contrast, about 60 percent of House Democrats represent districts more affluent than the median.

Polls show that even many Republican voters oppose cuts to government health care programs. The same message is evident in the outcome of state-level ballot initiatives: Idaho, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Utah have all voted to expand Medicaid.

The Republican Party has not yet figured out a solution to this problem. If the party were guided solely by public opinion, it might put together an agenda that was well to the right of the Democratic Party on social issues while also calling for higher taxes on the rich. There is quite a bit of economically populist appetite even among Republicans for raising taxes on the wealthy and corporations.

 
But the Republican Party retains enough of its wealthy base that it remains staunchly opposed to tax increases. Instead, Republicans say that the solution to the budget deficit involves less spending.

But the specific cuts that they have talked about so far — like calls to reduce Medicaid and food stamps — don’t come close to balancing the budget. Other Republicans have talked about reducing the “woke bureaucracy,” but it is not clear what that would entail.

Adding to the challenge for Speaker Kevin McCarthy is the slim Republican House majority. McCarthy can lose only four votes to pass a bill without Democratic support. It is very hard to envision a Republican budget that can satisfy the Freedom Caucus and still get votes from Republicans in swing districts; the math doesn’t work.

So where is their plan?