GOP Moderates Declare Themselves Staunchly ‘Reticent’ About Gutting the Safety Net

Charlie Dent. Photo: Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/AFP/Getty Images

Weeks after passing a bill that would throw millions of poor people off their health insurance to finance a tax cut for the rich, the House GOP has moved on to its next priority: a bill that slashes poor people’s health insurance, so as to finance a (larger) tax cut for the rich.

House Republicans have been preparing their 2018 budget, the legislation that will allow them to pass filibuster-proof tax cuts in the Senate. Reaching a consensus on that budget has been challenging, owing to the inherent tension between the party’s fiscal conservatives and military-industrial-complex enthusiasts. But last weekend, Republican leadership and the House Budget Committee chairwoman Diane Black found a way to have their tax cuts and Pentagon pork — and deficit reduction, too: by heaping more pain on poor and working people.

Black’s budget draft would slash $200 billion from the mandatory budget, with Medicaid, Medicare, food stamps, agricultural subsidies all taking a hit. This proposal — to put food-stamp recipients on a diet for the sake of increasing income inequality — was intended as a compromise between the House’s conservative and “moderate” factions. Initially, Black hoped to pass $500 billion in spending cuts.

But in a strongly worded letter, House Tuesday Group chairman Charlie Dent — and, reportedly, 19 moderate Republican co-signatories — have declared their fervent “reticence” about supporting Black’s impractical budget.

“While fiscal responsibility and long-term budget stability is essential, requiring hundreds of billions — as much as $200 billion by some accounts — in budget savings from mandatory spending programs in the reconciliation package is not practical and will make enacting tax reform even more difficult than it already will be,” the letter, first obtained by Politico, reads.

The Tuesday Group goes on to note that the GOP will need Democratic cooperation to increase the military budget in 2018 (as such new spending would require eight Democratic votes in the Senate), and to lift the debt ceiling (since a significant number of House conservatives have quasi-religious objections to voting for such a measure).

Thus, the letter writers suggest that their party work out a bipartisan deal on those matters before they take an ax to the Democrats’ favorite welfare programs: “[A]bsent such a bipartisan, bicameral agreement, we are reticent to support any budget resolution on the House floor.”

The far-right House Freedom Caucus — which has pushed for more than $200 billion in mandatory spending cuts — did not take kindly to Dent’s proposal.

Which makes sense: The Tuesday Group’s letter essentially acknowledges that it will be impossible for the GOP to cut discretionary spending. To get Democrats to support new military appropriations, Republicans will need to throw in some new money for domestic programs. Thus, the mandatory budget — the outlays that happen automatically, every year — is the party’s one chance at reining in big government. And given that the president wants to pass the largest tax cut in history, fiscal responsibility compels Republicans to increase the number of undernourished children in the United States. Or so House conservatives contend.

“There’s going to be a big spending increase in discretionary spending,” House Freedom Caucus leader Jim Jordan complained to Politico. “And we’re going to save only $150 billion to $200 billion over 10 years?”

Jordan has a point. If Republicans want to increase military spending, cut taxes, and reduce the deficit — as president Trump promised — they’re gonna need to hurt (and kill) some poor people.

But then, Trump also promised not to cut Medicare or Medicaid, while advertising himself as a different kind of Republican, who believed that the government had to take care of people.

And all available polling indicates that funding tax cuts for the rich by cutting benefits for working people isn’t just unpopular with the public at large, but also with the GOP’s core constituencies.

So, if moderate House Republicans can figure out how they managed to misplace their spines before May’s Trumpcare vote, they just might be able to dictate terms to their caucus. Growing the deficit is a much more popular way of financing tax cuts than privatizing Medicare. And at the end of the day, Paul Ryan will almost certainly need his moderates to perform the routine duties of governing. The Speaker can’t lose more than 23 votes if he is to pass a 2018 budget. And multiple members of the party’s far-right flank won’t vote for any budget that doesn’t replace Social Security with a tax exemption for the elderly’s Groupon purchases, or what have you. So, if the 20 moderates who signed Dent’s letter hold together, they can probably veto Draconian cuts.

But, of course, Republican moderates are far better known for rolling over than standing tall.

House GOP ‘Moderates’ Mobilize Against Steep Spending Cuts