Politics & Policy

The Corner

What Is and Isn’t Happening on Entitlements

“Top Republicans are already talking about cutting Medicare and Social Security next,” according to Vox. Reporter Tara Golshan doesn’t make good on the headline.

Here is what is going on, as best I can tell, as opposed to what I wish were going on.

Speaker Paul Ryan favors reforming Medicare and Social Security, as he always has. He believes that reform is necessary to keep the national debt from rising sharply, as he always has. He thinks the fiscal impact of the tax cut Congress just passed is comparatively trivial.

There are no plans for Congress to take up changes to Medicare and Social Security next year. Ryan knows that President Trump would not be on board for doing it and most Republican congressmen have no appetite for it. Ryan has said zilch to suggest that he intends to try it.

Congress may well take up reform of anti-poverty programs next year. Ryan and Trump both seem to favor this course, which I imagine would involve turning as many of those programs as possible into block grants, adding some work requirements, or both. Medicaid would probably not be included in this push, but rather taken up only if Congress wants to wade back into health care. House Republicans show very little interest in doing that unless Senate Republicans show a good chance of having the votes. 

When Ryan talks about taking up entitlement reform next year, he’s referring to the anti-poverty programs. He’s not talking about Social Security or Medicare.

Update: Axios has McConnell saying he “would not expect to see” welfare reform, and says he “threw cold water Thursday on the idea of doing welfare and entitlement reform on a partisan basis next year.” Presumably Congress is going to do something besides confirming judicial nominees, but whatever it is, it won’t be Social Security or Medicare reform.

Update II: Two weeks ago, I wrote that a front-page story in the New York Times had falsely claimed that “Speaker Paul D. Ryan and other Republicans are beginning to express their big dreams publicly, vowing that next year they will move on to changes in Medicare and Social Security.” I just checked, and Kate Zernike and Alan Rappeport have not corrected this claim.


Ramesh Ponnuru — Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg View, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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