GOP Strategy: Cut Medicaid, Leave Social Security Alone?

| Fri Mar. 4, 2011 12:10 PM EST

House Speaker John Boehner has promised that GOP will tackle entitlement reform in the near future, despite the political perils of doing so. "I think it's incumbent on us, if we are serious about dealing with the big challenges, that we go out and help Americans understand how big the problem is that faces us," he told the Wall Street Journal. In the meantime, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) has also been banging the drum on the issue once again, vowing to pursue his plan to "voucherize" Medicare and privatize the system. 

But will the GOP really follow through on its pledge to go after Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, given the widespread popularity of such programs? Despite talking up the issue on Thursday, Boehner has also privately pushed President Obama to go first in putting a reform proposal forward. Boehner assured the White House that he'll stop House Republicans from attacking any Obama entitlement reform proposal—and that "he will stand-by-side with him to weather the strong political backlash," according to The Hill. While the words may seem welcoming, Boehner is also pressuring Obama to go first on entitlement reform. But since the White House has promised not to touch Social Security or gut Medicare, Boehner's remarks could also be a political ploy to make it seem like the GOP is serious about entitlement reform—without having to commit to a serious proposal.

That being said, there's one entitlement program that's far more vulnerable than the others: Medicaid. While Social Security and Medicare have long been untouchable, given the political perils of going after older Americans' benefits, Republicans have already indicated that they're eager to undermine the government's health care program for the poor. As I reported this week, Rep. Cathy McMorris-Rodgers (R-Wash.)—the fourth-ranking House Republican—is already working on a proposal to make it easier for states to slash Medicaid spending. 

Politically speaking, it's easier for the GOP, especially, to go after Medicaid, as the program predominantly serves poor, minority voters, as opposed to senior citizens, a key demographic for Republicans. What's more, Republicans have a chorus of governors from both parties to back them up, given the widespread complaints about Medicaid's burden on strapped state budgets. And while the public opposes entitlement cuts overall, Medicaid is the least popular of the big three. While 70 to 25 percent oppose cutting Social Security and 72 to 25 percent oppose cutting Medicare, a smaller 59 to 37 percent oppose cutting Medicaid, according to a recent Quinnipiac poll

Bottom line: while the GOP may hold off going after Social Security and Medicare, they have a real opportunity to go after Medicaid—and they've already placed the program in their sights.

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