The political economy of entitlement reform in two tables

at 10:52 AM ET, 03/29/2011

The GOP has talked too big a game on entitlements to whiff on them in their 2012 budget proposal. But entitlements are ... dangerous. Particularly Social Security and Medicare. So there’ve been contrasting reports on how far the budget proposal Paul Ryan is writing will go. Some stories have said he’s focusing on Medicaid. Others have said he’s looking at Medicare, too. Ryan’s office promises “real entitlement reforms so that we can have a conversation with the American people about the challenges we face and the need to chart a new path to prosperity.”

Complicating matters — and making many think Medicaid is going to get the axe in a way Medicare and Social Security will not — is the nature of the GOP’s coalition. Consider the exit polls from the 2010 election. The age group that swung most heavily toward the Republicans was seniors — which is to say, voters who currently benefit from Medicare and Social Security. They are ferociously protective of both programs and turned on the Democrats for making Medicare cuts in the Affordable Care Act:

Meanwhile, the income group that swung most heavily toward Democrats were voters making less than $30,000 — the exact group that tends to rely on Medicaid:

The political incentives for the GOP are clear: tread lightly on entitlements for seniors and heavily on programs for the poor. Which isn’t to say they will: Ryan could come out with an ambitious and comprehensive set of entitlement reforms. If his budget focuses on Medicaid, however, you’ll know why.

 
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