Last Updated:November 30 @ 12:35 pm

GOP appears poised to take on entitlements

By Charles Babington

CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. (AP) - If there's any place where tea partiers in Congress might hesitate to call for cuts in Social Security and Medicare to shrink the federal debt, Florida's retirement havens should top the list.

Even here, however, Republican lawmakers are racing toward a spending showdown with Democrats exhibiting little nervousness about deep cuts, including those that eventually would hit benefit programs long left alone by politicians.

In fact, many GOP freshmen seem bolder than ever. It's Democrats, especially in the Senate, who are trying to figure out how to handle the popular but costly retirement programs. Congress, meanwhile, is rapidly nearing critical decisions on the budget and the nation's debt ceiling.

In southeast Florida last week, first-term GOP Rep. Allen West, a tea party favorite, called for changes that some might consider radical: abolish the Internal Revenue Service and federal income tax; retain tax cuts for billionaires so they won't shut down their charities; stop extending unemployment benefits that "reward bad behavior" by discouraging people from seeking new jobs.

As for entitlements, West told a friendly town hall gathering in Coral Springs, if Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid "are left on autopilot, if we don't institute some type of reform, they'll subsume our entire GDP" by 2040 or 2050. GDP, or gross domestic product, measures the value of all goods and services produced in the United States.

Social Security, the largest federal program, mainly benefits retirees. Medicare provides health coverage for older people. Medicaid helps those with low incomes. Combined, the three consume about 40 percent of the budget. Their costs are growing rapidly. Social Security and Medicare benefits now exceed the payroll taxes that fund them.

West, who's likely to draw serious Democratic opposition next year, showed scant interest in edging toward the center on anything. He didn't take issue with the man who said congressional Democrats "have joined with the radical Islamists," or with the woman who said President Barack Obama "certainly doesn't support Israel."

In Greenville, S.C., a different Republican freshman with tea party ties, Rep. Trey Gowdy, also suggested during last week's congressional break a paring back of social programs.

According to a Greenville News account posted on his website, Gowdy "described a recent school classroom where most children indicated they think it's the government's job to provide health care, Social Security and education. 'We've got to do something about the sense of entitlement,' Gowdy said."

Gowdy's office later said he thinks Social Security "is a key aspect of a broad effort to fundamentally reform our entitlement system, but any solution must honor our commitment to current retirees."

Indeed, West and many other Republicans say current and soon-to-be retirees should see no benefit cuts. Their calls for changing Medicare and Social Security often lack specifics, and it's unclear whether the divided Congress will tackle the programs' long-term problems or postpone action, as has happened many times before on Capitol Hill.

West's desire to slash spending seems to stop at his district's doorstep. The Coral Springs audience cheered loudly when he said he helped secure a $21 million grant for a new runway at the nearby Fort Lauderdale airport.

"Grant money is not pork," West said. He issued a press release saying the runway project "will generate at least 11,000 jobs" by 2014 and cost $791 million.

While West spoke in Coral Springs, several dozen Republicans had wine and hors d'oeuvres in Palm Beach as they awaited a speech by former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani. There was ample sympathy in the room for raising the eligibility age for Social Security benefits.

Obama's debt commission recommended gradually increasing the full retirement age, from 67 to 69, over the next 65 years.

"No one is going to be hurt by it," said Steve Stevens, 80, a retired real estate developer. If people, rich or poor, count on Social Security to fund their retirement, he said, "it's very poor planning."

Obama's debt commission has recommended gradually increasing the full retirement age, from 67 to 69, over the next 65 years.

Cynthia Steele, 51, said anyone making more than $100,000 a year should not receive Social Security benefits, even if it affected her and her friends.

In Washington, Democrats are conflicted. Thirty-two Senate Democrats joined 32 Republicans in urging Obama to negotiate a broad-based spending plan that includes changes to Social Security and Medicare.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., says he opposes cuts in Social Security benefits.

The centrist Democratic group Third Way says the public is ready to embrace gradual changes to entitlement programs and that Republicans are winning the issue so far.

"We don't believe Republicans 'going too far' will be their Waterloo," the group said in a memo. "The party seen as most serious on the issue will win the day."

If Republicans and Democrats cannot agree soon on spending plans for this year and next, the government could face its first partial shutdown since 1996. That prospect worries leaders of both parties, and they are watching to see if last week's recess hardened of softened lawmakers' positions.

West suggested there is room for compromise, but not much.

"I'm not for shutting down the government," he told the Coral Springs crowd. But he said Obama must lead the budget negotiations, or else.

If there is a shutdown, West said, "it's going to be because the president is not engaged."

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  1. MadeinAmerica33Comment by MadeinAmerica33
    March 28, 2011 @ 9:37 am

    People lets remember that Social Security is in trouble today because of mis-management of the funds by both Dems and Reps. Main reason,they grapped the funds and used them for other (pork) things and never paid the SS Plan back.

    I really like Reid’s comment that he does not want to cut SS. benefits. He did not feel that way in the 1980′s when Harry and Dan Rostenkowski (jailbird) and other DEm and REps CUT the SS benefits of Federal, State,and Local goverment employees with pensions(teachers also) by approx 60%. So if you fell into this type, all your other jobs that required you to pay into SS, your total benefits declined. Kinda like robbery isn’t it! If you paid in why should these people be discriminated against and penalized for trying to provide for their families.

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  2. downdraftComment by downdraft
    March 28, 2011 @ 10:59 am

    When this nation was attacked by the cowardly empire of Japan, and by the German Third Reich…evry American forgot for the most part about their “entitlements”…in fact entitlements were slim back then.

    The most important issue before us was SAVING OUR COUNTRY from evil enemies…our finances then weren’t very great either…

    Men went to war in Europe and the Pacific, and women went to war building their weapons and flying them to the soldiers…women also stayed behind to keep the homeland and families in tact…

    Victory gardens, gas rationing (when we had it ), retread tires or none at all, no chocolates, no nylons, no butter (it all went to Russia, they didn’t like margerine)…and on and on I could number the sacrifices…

    But these were not “Sacrifices” to Americans…these were our DUTIES! Our part to save America..from going under.

    Well…to all of us …AMERICA CALLS AGAIN for us to step up to the plate…OUR DUTEIES: stop spending, reuse what we have, help others, give up “entitlements” but help our neighbors out who have lost them, teach our children about America’s greatness, as well teahing them how to become toughened …”when the times get tough the tough get going”…

    America is speaking to us…HELP!

    And once we used a Motto: “Lets Remember Pearl Harbor”…Now a new one is : ” Lets Remember 2012 is right around the corner..VOTE TO SAVE AMERICA from those who wish us harm”!

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  3. urocyonComment by urocyon
    March 28, 2011 @ 1:26 pm

    How can Social Security be considered an “entitlement” when I have been paying for it my entire working career?  So have my employers.  The payments we made were supposed to be held, invested and returned to us when we reached retirement age.  The same with Medicare.  My employers and I have been paying for this latter program for over 40 years.
    All of the sudden, this money that I have been paying all these years is called an “entitlement” like it is a gift, and not to be paid back to me because the (trust) funds have been mismanaged by our politicians.  I don’t think so!
    All this talk about paying out benefits based on need is also a bunch of ****!  I worked hard my entire life and because I enjoyed some level of success I should not be penalized.  I’m not rich, and I am counting on the benefits I have been told I should receive when I retire in order to meet my retirement goals.  I am not willing to give this away to others only because in someone else’s opinion I have too much or don’t need it.  Not only is this short-changing me, but my family and my heirs as well as I will have to use more of my saved resources (yes, I did save for my retirement) to make up the difference I would lose from not receiving Social Security.  Talk about un-American.  These continuing talks about wealth re-distribution are so completely contrary to the principles that this country was founded on that I worry about the future of our country.  It is getting to be I don’t even recognize this country any more!

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    • downdraftComment by downdraft
      March 28, 2011 @ 2:46 pm


      I overlooked that my Social Security is not an entitlement…like you I paid as did my employer into a “trust”…that was subsequently defiled by greedy politicians of both sides…most of us were somewhat angered, but not enough tofile charges, etc…

      Those politicians called it “social engineering”…Now if you and I did what the politicians did , defile a trust for our own benefit (re-election, popularity), they would throw us in jail.

      My point was directed mostly at our elected who fear facing the music, which we have no real chance of financial survival without it…I believe it is the only thing we can do…we can’t borrow more to get out of this, we can’t tax more, we can’t spend more, we can’t print anymore money,…but we can stop the bleeding and will have to do so with more than a bandaid, …we need a complete heart transplant.

      Yielding to Socialism is simply delaying execution…when somebody else’s money we spend  finally runs out. We would have also given away our blessed Republic to a ship of fools and thieves. We are already at the “money run out point”…time to step up to the plate…throw them out, start again and this time keep a tight rope on those we send to tend to our business.

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  4. pjkelly3Comment by pjkelly3
    March 28, 2011 @ 4:09 pm

    Social Security is not an “entitlement”, I paid for it.  Empty the retirement plans, medical plans, and salaries of past & present politicians and add it to Social Security.  They stole the money & should have to pay it back.

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  5. pjkelly3Comment by pjkelly3
    March 28, 2011 @ 4:15 pm

    The GOP had better listen the overwhelming majority are dead set against them on this.  They did not listen when we said stop the illegals and they got booted out.  The Dems then did not listen to the people and got booted out.  Sooner or later the people are going to realize neither party represents them and vote someone else in.

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  6. presidentdonComment by presidentdon
    March 28, 2011 @ 11:35 pm

    It is time for We the People to decide just how much compensation per year our politicians are worth. Lets pay them, based upon performance, they would wise up quickly. When Congress was facing the needs of the Boomers they raised our donations (extortion) telling us this would be invested to earn money so when the babyboomers reached retirement the money would be there to pay the ENTITLEMENT. Did Congress lie, no they just took the money and spent in on getting ReElected year after year. Now it’s time to pay the piper and We are the culprits. It’s time to RePlace every member of Congress, the Senate, and the President to Independent Candidates, like “Don Cordell for President” try that on Google and learn how we can ReStore not Change America.

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  7. GrampsComment by Gramps
    June 7, 2011 @ 7:53 pm

    Social Security is NOT an entitlement to those who had a portion of their earned wages deducted from their paycheck. We paid half and our Employers paid half. I participated in the event for over 40 years. I’ll tell you what an entitlement is, it’s the money every politician receive when he/she leaves their elected position without paying any contribution toward there retirement. That’s an entitlement that should be cut!

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  8. NY GrahamComment by NY Graham
    June 7, 2011 @ 8:29 pm

    The truth about Social Security is that it is a con, a Ponzi scheme, and always has been. Americans were lead to believe they were paying into a retirement fund when that was not the case; social security is simply another tax and a bunch of promises. As a country we have an obligation to fulfil those promises for those approaching retirement, and make sure they get most of what they were promised. But the Ponzi scheme is collapsing, the current system is UNSUSTAINABLE and we nee to modify it fast. Please do not demonize those that are trying to solve the problem instead of of just ignoring it. Retirees, you will get your benefits. The Republicans are just trying to make sure that younger generations do not have to pay this TAX and instead can KEEP THEIR MONEY and invest it for themselves. Is that too much to ask?

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