House Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price has a plan to slash the safety net as bad as the one cooked up by fellow Republican Rep. Paul Ryan when he was in that seat. His goal: to give it all away in tax cuts for the rich by changing the budgeting process in Congress.
As the nominee for secretary of Health and Human Services in popular vote loser President-elect Trump's cabinet, he'd put the full weight of the executive branch behind it, which doesn't make it a foregone conclusion (because there's still a relatively strong Democratic minority in the Senate). But it makes it a more dangerous possibility nonetheless. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has the goods:
Although the Price budget process plan includes dozens of proposals, two key themes stand out: the harsh treatment of social and other programs versus the lenient treatment of tax breaks, and the risks posed by Chairman Price’s proposed entitlement cap to the economy and people in need. These changes would amount to an attack on spending and key programs — such as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and SNAP (formerly food stamps) — at the expense of vulnerable people, even as they opened the door to ever more tax breaks primarily benefitting affluent households.
The current budget process for guarding against higher deficits is fundamentally even handed. The statutory Pay-As-You-Go (or PAYGO) rule applies equally to entitlement spending and revenues. It requires any legislation that would increase projected entitlement costs or reduce projected revenues to be offset by any combination of reduced entitlement benefits or higher revenues.
The Price plan would radically change this approach, repealing the PAYGO rule against deficit-increasing legislation and, in its place, erecting myriad special rules against entitlement programs while placing no comparable restrictions on tax breaks. New spending restrictions — and very likely, deep spending cuts — are at the plan’s core, even as it allows unlimited tax cuts and new or expanded tax breaks.
In other words, tax cuts would not have to be paid for and spending on social insurance programs would be curtailed with new restrictions. So there would be entitlement caps which "would not only require Congress to pay for new entitlement programs or expansions of existing ones, but the cost could be offset only with cuts in other entitlement programs—not with higher revenues." Not just that, but the process would require Congress to pay for any increases in entitlement costs that are outside of Congress's control, like, say, a crippling recession causing massive unemployment. If more money has to come for unemployment insurance, it has to be cut from some other program that would be helping those unemployed people, like food stamps. We've seen Republicans try to do this in practice before, but Price would have them make it the rule. Of course, while there's a ceiling on social insurance spending in Price's plan, there's no floor on revenue—tax cuts for everyone! (Every-already wealthy-one.)
And here's a tricky thing: "The Price plan would establish an outside commission to recommend converting entitlement programs such as Medicare, Medicaid, SNAP, unemployment compensation, and farm programs to annual appropriations." As entitlements, they expand to cover the need to make sure as few people fall through the safety net as possible. Converting these programs to appropriations would mean they get a set amount of money annually, and when it runs out, that's it. Once they become subject to annual appropriations, they can be cut and cut and cut into nonexistence. But all those open-ended tax breaks, the credits and deductions and preferential rates? They continue on as before.
Oh, there's this, too: "by ending entitlements' automatic stabilizing effect on the economy, the Price plan would also almost certainly lead to more frequent and deeper recessions." Which means more people in need of the safety net that no longer would exist. Making America great again, indeed.