If House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) has anything to do with it, the next step for Congress will be cutting welfare programs that benefit low-income Americans — a move that is not particularly popular with the American public, including the congressman's own party.
The Washington Post's Jeff Stein reported earlier this month that congressional Republicans will aim next year to reduce spending on both federal health care and anti-poverty programs, citing the need to reduce the federal deficit.
“We're going to have to get back next year at entitlement reform, which is how you tackle the debt and the deficit,” Ryan said during an appearance on Ross Kaminsky's talk radio show. "... Frankly, it's the health-care entitlements that are the big drivers of our debt, so we spend more time on the health-care entitlements — because that's really where the problem lies, fiscally speaking.”
Ryan said on Fox News last week that House Republicans will attempt to trim the federal deficit by cutting spending on Medicare, Medicaid and welfare programs:
“We're going to get back at reforming these entitlements. And we're going to take on welfare reform, which is another big entitlement program, where we're basically paying people, able-bodied people, not to work and depriving them with all these disincentives from going to the workforce. This good economy we're going to get out of this, this faster-growing economy, is going to produce higher wages and more demand for good-paying jobs. And that's what's good — so ... it's the perfect time to do welfare reform to ease the path for people who wanted to work.”
But Ryan may face an obstacle with this, considering just how unpopular decreasing funding for programs helping low-income Americans may be.
Only 12 percent of American adults want to see President Trump and Congress decrease spending for Medicaid, according to a survey conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation. Four in 10 preferred to increase Medicaid spending. And nearly half — 47 percent — want funding levels to remain the same.
Perhaps Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) knows this, which is why he told Axios that he “would not expect to see” welfare reform on the agenda for 2018.
“I think Democrats are not going to be interested in entitlement reform, so I would not expect to see that on the agenda. What the Democrats are willing to do is important because in the Senate, with rare exceptions like the tax bill, we have to have Democratic involvement,” McConnell said.
But getting Democrats on board may be the least of Republican lawmakers' concerns, considering how little Republican voters support decreased funding for those programs.
According to data from the Pew Research Center, only 15 percent of Republicans support decreasing funding for Medicare, the federal health insurance program primarily for people 65 or older. And only 10 percent of Republicans support decreased funding for Social Security, an entitlement program primarily benefiting older Americans after retirement.
Given that the majority of Americans over 65 voted for Trump in the 2016 election, according to Washington Post exit polls, this may be something GOP leaders want to keep in mind.
And in general, fewer than 4 in 10 Republicans — 37 percent — support making cuts to America's “needy.” While Trump did not win working-class Americans as a whole, he did beat Democratic rival Hillary Clinton with white working-class voters by 39 percentage points, according to exit polls.
Congress is experiencing lower approval ratings than Trump, who has some of the worst ratings of any president at this time in history. Fewer than 20 percent of Americans approve of the job Congress is doing, according to Gallup. With the 2018 midterm elections approaching — and with some Republican National Committee officials already concerned about the party's relationship with voters — Ryan leading his party forward with entitlement reform could cause significant political harm.