Top Republicans are already talking about cutting Medicare and Social Security next

The idea of cutting popular programs in an election year has vulnerable Republicans asking, why not infrastructure?

By Tara Golshan
This piece originally appeared in Vox

As Republicans turn the final corner on their tax bill, top GOP leaders have already identified their next frontier for 2018: a push to enact sweeping budget cuts on programs the poorest Americans depend on.

House Speaker Paul Ryan and other top Republican leaders, fresh off a tax bill that is estimated to add at least $1 trillion to the national debt, are already sounding the alarm about an out-of-control deficit problem. Their targets for closing the gap include Social Security, Medicare, and food stamps.

“We’re going to have to get back next year at entitlement reform, which is how you tackle the debt and the deficit,” Ryan said on a talk radio show. One of his top spending appropriators echoed the sentiment.

“If someone wants to get serious about debt, come talk to me about entitlements,” Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK) told CNBC. “Tax cuts produce growth; entitlement spending doesn’t.”

But entitlement reform, as Republicans have come to call slashing these programs, comes at a cost. Not every Republican is on board with touching nationally popular programs during an election year that is already shaping up to be favorable to Democrats.

Talk of putting entitlements next on the agenda has divided GOP ranks. Some are eager to make up for the deficit-busting tax cut. But President Trump has put red tape around their biggest federal spending program targets — Medicare and Social Security — and the prospect of touching the nation’s safety net during a midterm election year is proving too much a risk for others. For many, the answer is to just leave entitlements alone.

“We’re talking about Medicare, and that’s a pretty big bite in the middle of an election year,” Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS) said. “I’m not saying no, but there are other things that could happen.”

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