Not content with the GOP plan to upend Medicare and Medicaid, a trio of GOP senators have unveiled a proposal to go after Social Security as well. On Wednesday morning, Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC.), Rand Paul (R-Ky.), and Mike Lee (R-Utah) presented their plan to slash an eye-popping $6.2 trillion from the debt by reforming Social Security—all without raising taxes. How will they pull this off? By hiking the Social Security retirement age to 70 years by 2032 and reducing benefits for those who earn more than an average of $43,000 over their lifetime. The Republicans’ plan also makes sure to exclude anyone bound to retire (and vote) any time soon, by exempting those currently older than 56 years from feeling the pain.
In unveiling the plan, Graham called any kind of tax increase to shore up Social Security a non-starter and economically catastrophic. “Don’t raise taxes unless you want to completely destroy America,” he said at the Wednesday morning press conference. “It’s much better to give up benefits on the end side than pay taxes now.” Despite such extreme rhetoric, Graham and his colleagues presented their plan as a reasonably moderate option that didn’t go so far as to privatize Social Security, as George W. Bush had proposed years earlier. “You’re not going to pass a Social Security plan that increases taxes, you’re not having Social Security with personal accounts,” Graham explained.
Graham acknowledged that tackling Social Security in any form was politically toxic, noting that the trio couldn’t find any other colleagues—Republican or otherwise—to rally behind their proposal on Wednesday. “These are the only two guys we could find,” Graham said, referring to Lee and Paul, both freshmen members who rode 2010’s tea party wave. Indeed, even GOP Rep. Paul Ryan’s drastic 2012 budget proposal avoids drastic changes to Social Security.
It seems like no coincidence that the GOP Senators pushed out their plan just a few hours before Obama was scheduled to deliver a major speech on deficit reduction. Lee claimed that the timing was a mere “coincidence,” as the three had been preparing the proposal for weeks. But there’s little question that Republicans know their plans will stand in contrast to Obama’s remarks today. And it’s just the latest sign of how much the GOP has succeeded in moving the goalposts on the deficit and spending in recent weeks: every time the Democrats have accomodated them, the conservative flank of their party has pushed the debate even further to the right.