And we didn't even know it.
Remember, back on the morning of 3 January when the new 115th Congress convened, Republicans had already voted in secret the night before to shut down the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE)?
And how, when word got out, so many thousands of furious citizens phoned Congress that the House was forced to rescind that clause? Before noon?
It was a jubilant win for the good guys that day but there is more in the new rules package that got lost in the hubbub and celebration:
”Unnoticed by most was an additional provision, which is one part of the Republican game plan to destroy Social Security and Medicare,” writes Nancy Altman at Huffington Post last Saturday...”
This is slightly complicated (as the Republicans intend) but not something we can't understand if we pay attention – and it is crucial that we do.
Start with this from Altman:
Social Security...and Medicare...do not go through the appropriations process because, as monthly pension payments and medical insurance, they must pay what is owed, not what Congress chooses to spend.
“If Social Security and Medicare were subject to the whims of every Congress, they would be radically transformed. No one could count on the benefits they had earned.
For this reason, Social Security and Medicare are unique among most federal agencies and departments whose work can be hobbled and even destroyed with funding cuts during the appropriations process by representatives who don't like those departments.
As Altman explains, Republicans have an almost religious belief that the private sector can do anything better than government can and because Social Security and Medicare bypass the appropriations process, the GOP has hated those two programs from the moment they were each enacted.
So here is what the House Republicans wrote into the new rules package that will be in force for the next two years. Altman again:
“...the new rules require the relevant committees to make 'recommendations for changes to existing law for moving [unspecified] programs...from mandatory funding to discretionary appropriations, where appropriate.'
“Note the vague language,” writes Altman. “Republican politicians understand how popular Social Security and Medicare are.
Yet they desperately want to destroy the programs, which put the lie to their anti-government agenda by illustrating clearly that there are some tasks that the government does much better than the private sector.”
Now, here is the stealth part that the Republicans hope will slip by and/or mystify other politicians, the press and citizens (emphasis mine):
”The solution? Cut and radically transform Social Security and Medicare, but do it in a manner that avoids political accountability.
“Using changes in the arcane [new] rules of the budget to force through subsequent cuts fits that bill perfectly.
“By the time the American people realize what's happening, the rules that usher in the changes are in the past [voted in on 3 January 2017], and those voting for the cuts can claim that they have no choice, for budgetary reasons.”
Representative Tom Price, current chairman of the House Budget Committee, proposed other changes to the budget rules which if enacted, says Altman, “would end Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid as we know them.”
Price is the president-elect's nominee to become Secretary of Health and Human Services where he will have direct control of Medicare and Medicaid and will be a trustee of Social Security.
Nancy Altman understands more about Social Security and Medicare and the politics thereof than just about anyone on the planet. She is founding co-director of Social Security Works and and a regular contributor on these issues at Huffington Post.
Along with Josh Marshall and his reporters at Talking Points Memo, she is the foremost defender and topnotch explainer of the sometimes cryptic issues around these programs.
Please read Altman's entire story on the stealth attack at Huffington Post. We need all the education we can get to be articulate enough to effectively resist the upcoming Republican attempts to dismantle these programs.
In some ways, the Republicans in Congress are more dangerous to the American way of life that the president-elect and you can expect additional stealth attacks in almost any area Congress controls. We're all going to be busy for the foreseeable future.