Dem 51
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GOP 49
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Johnson Is Gunning for Entitlements

Given the situation in Israel, as well as the messy process of replacing Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) as speaker, you would be forgiven for forgetting (three "for" words in a row!) that the federal government is a little more than a week from shutting down again. As a reminder, the short-term deal that kept the government open, but doomed McCarthy, will expire on Nov. 17.

McCarthy's replacement, Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) is keeping things relatively close to the vest, and so it's hard to know what exactly he's going to try to accomplish in this round of negotiations. It is at least possible that he'll try to kick the can down the road on the overall budget so that he can argue with the White House and the Senate about aid to Israel and Ukraine (and possibly Taiwan). Given the credibility Johnson has with the Freedom Caucus, he might get away with this where McCarthy did not.

That said, it is entirely possible that the Speaker will try to use the overall budget to ram through one or both of two things: (1) a package that gives aid to Israel while leaving Ukraine out in the cold, and/or (2) some sort of across-the-board cuts that reduce the federal budget by some amount, like 1%. Johnson's problem is that option #1 is unacceptable to both the Senate (including Republicans) and White House while option #2 is unacceptable to nearly everyone (including military hawks, who realize that such cuts would hit the Pentagon the hardest).

And then, there's the possibility that Johnson will swing for the fences and go after Social Security and/or Medicare. Both of those programs are on an unsound financial footing, and are getting perilously close to being unable to fully fund current liabilities. This could be resolved by increasing intake (which means hiking taxes on those most able to pay) or by reducing outlay (which means cutting benefits). You could surely guess this, but Johnson strongly favors the latter. After all, he lives life Biblically, and there's nobody in that book who said we should be taking care of those who are most in need. Right?

The truth of the matter is that fixing Social Security, Medicare and even the overall deficit will almost certainly require some spending cuts (which Democrats, in general, don't like) and some tax increases (which Republicans, in general, don't like). Unfortunately, in politics in general, and in modern politics in particular, "we both had to give up something" is not a winning line to run for reelection upon. That said, the bull is going to have to be taken by the horns fairly soon. Could that time arrive in the next week? Stay tuned. (Z)

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