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House Republicans try to defuse talk of Medicare cuts

Rep. Jason Smith arrives at a meeting at the Capitol Jan. 9.

Rep. Jason Smith arrives at a meeting at the Capitol Jan. 9. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Key House Republicans are attempting to tamp down discussion of cuts to Medicare and Social Security in the upcoming debt ceiling showdown after former President Trump warned Republicans last week not to "vote to cut a single penny from Medicare or Social Security."

  • "No cuts to Medicare, Social Security when balancing our budget," Rep. Jason Smith, the new chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, told Axios on Tuesday night.

Reality check: It's going to be very difficult to balance the budget without cutting health care program spending, as Axios' Caitlin Owens wrote Wednesday morning.

What they're saying: Several House Freedom Caucus members told Axios there was no discussion within the Republican conference about cutting Medicare in regards to the debt ceiling either. They also made it clear their strong stance against entitlement cuts is in response to Democrats' attacks on them, as well as a recognition of the reality of how difficult such changes might be.

  • "There's nobody talking about cutting Medicare or Social Security. Nobody's talking about any of that," Rep. Byron Donalds told Axios. "What we're going to do is get to a responsible spending number."
  • "We're not. No one's seriously considering that. I'm going to call that fake news," said Rep. Mike Johnson. Asked about whether the party was talking internally about it, Johnson said: "Well we're being asked this question and I don't think there's any foundation for it. I think that rumor was started by Democrats, not Republicans."
  • "I think they're not on the table for debt ceiling discussions," Rep. Andy Biggs told Axios.
  • "Nobody's talking about it," Rep. Andy Harris told Axios. "The Democrats have cut Medicare. They're the ones who cut physician reimbursement and who made the program worse for seniors. No one else is talking about cutting Medicare except the Democrats."
  • And last week, Speaker Kevin McCarthy said that "as Republicans, we will always protect Medicare and Social Security." Punchbowl News also reported on Wednesday that McCarthy told Sen. Joe Manchin he would not be cutting Medicare or Social Security when negotiating the debt limit.

But not everyone in the Republican caucus agrees:

  • "Obviously, with Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security accounting for 70% of the budget, we're going to have to address it," said Rep. Buddy Carter, a member of the Budget Committee. "Medicaid and Medicare are going to be tough, there's no question about that. But it can be done. It's got to be done if we're going to secure it for future generations."

Yes, but: What counts as a cut to Medicare may have varying definitions for different members. The latest Republican Study Committee budget proposal calls for raising the Medicare eligibility age to 67 from 65, which some may not define, technically, as a slash to the program.

  • And a reminder: W&M chair Smith is a member of the RSC.

It's also worth pointing out, as Rep. Thomas Massie — a big proponent of spending cuts — told Axios, any program slashes would have to get through the Democratic-controlled Senate and be signed into law by President Biden.

  • "It's sort of a moot point. Like, what could you do here that the Senate would pass and the president would sign? Why would you even start the discussion and let people distort what you're trying to do when there is no possible positive outcome?" Massie said.
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