The real stakes of 2022
One of the strange things about political campaigns is that irrelevant issues often dominate the discussion. Meanwhile, issues that can have a real impact on people's lives are frequently ignored.
In 2022, Republicans are spending millions on tens of thousands of ads claiming that Democrats in Congress are "soft on crime" and want to "defund the police." Funding for public safety and policing comes primarily from state and local governments. So if you wanted to "defund the police," Congress would not be the place to do it.
Democrats in Congress, however, have expanded federal funding to hire police significantly. The American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), which was signed into law in March 2021, provided $350 billion in additional funding that state and local governments can use to hire more police officers or other public safety initiatives. In the House, 220 Democrats voted for ARPA, and all 210 Republicans voted against ARPA. Much of this money was spent on police and prisons, according to an analysis by The Marshall Project.
Since 2019, most major cities and counties — particularly those run by Democrats — have significantly expanded their funding for police. There is little evidence to suggest that increasing police spending reduces crime. An ABC News analysis "of state and local police funding and overall violent crime data in the U.S. between 1985 and 2020 found no relationship between year-to-year police spending and crime rates." For better or worse, there is nothing to suggest that Democrats are seeking to reduce federal funding for police.
But one thing that is at stake is the future of Social Security and Medicare. There are no Republicans running ads promising massive cuts to these popular programs. But, if Republicans regain control of the House, that's exactly what they intend to do.
According to a report in Bloomberg Government last week, key Republicans who would lead the House Budget Committee are seeking to make significant cuts to Social Security and Medicare spending. Congressman Buddy Carter (R-GA), a potential Budget committee chair under a Republican majority, said he would seek cuts to "non-discretionary" spending, a euphemism for Social Security and Medicare. In a Fox News column, Congressman Jodey Arrington (R-TX), also potential Budget committee chair, wrote that Republicans "must begin addressing the real debt drivers – mandatory spending programs" — another euphemism for Social Security and Medicare.
Republicans may seek to raise the age of eligibility for Social Security and Medicare, which is effectively a benefit cut for anyone who isn't already enrolled in the programs. In June, the House Study Committee, the largest caucus of House Republicans, released a plan to "raise the Medicare age of eligibility to 67 and the Social Security eligibility to 70." Alternatively, the Republicans may seek to place a "cap on annual deficits" or "formal debt-to-GDP targets" that could force across-the-board cuts to Social Security and Medicare automatically.
But with Biden as President and Democrats, at a minimum, retaining the ability to filibuster legislation in the Senate, is there any reason for immediate concern? In a word: yes.
Republicans say they are willing "to use next year’s debt-limit deadline to extract concessions from Democrats." Failing to extend the debt limit would cause the United States to default on its debt obligations. This is a powerful threat because a default would "roil global financial markets and create chaos since both domestic and international markets depend on the relative economic and political stability of U.S. debt instruments and the U.S. economy." Further, "Social Security payments and salaries for federal civilian employees and the military" would stop.
To be clear, Republicans do not actually want to balance the budget and eliminate the need to extend the debt limit. When Trump was president, Republicans increased the deficit by passing large tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy. Republican leaders in Congress voted twice to increase the debt limit and then voted to suspend the debt limit for two years.
But during the Obama administration, Republicans used the debt limit — and the threat of default — to extract significant spending cuts, including cuts to Medicare. Republicans also unsuccessfully attempted to use the debt ceiling to force a repeal of Obamacare. While the country narrowly avoided default, and Social Security was spared, the House Republican caucus has radicalized in the last decade.
So the 2022 election is highly unlikely to impact police funding but could have a major impact on the future of Social Security and Medicare. It's easy to understand why Republicans are talking about the former. Cuts to Social Security and Medicare are extremely unpopular. Recent polling shows that 77% of Americans, including 76% of Republicans, support increasing Social Security benefits.
What's less clear is why the news media is spending so much time talking about crime instead of Social Security and Medicare, even after Bloomberg's story last week on Republican plans to cut Social Security and Medicare.
A database search of major U.S. newspapers in the Nexis database over the last seven days found 16 stories that discussed "crime" as a major issue in the midterm Congressional elections. None of the newspapers in the database published an article that discussed House Republicans' scheme to force benefit reductions in Social Security in Medicare. The database included Los Angeles Times, The Boston Globe, The Dallas Morning News, The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and 39 other major newspapers.
On Sunday, "crime" was mentioned 20 times on NBC's Meet the Press, 9 times on ABC News This Week, 19 times on Fox News Sunday, and 3 times on CNN's State of the Nation. The major Sunday political shows mostly ignored the plans of House Republicans to cut Social Security and Medicare. On Meet The Press, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) alluded to it once as part of an answer to an unrelated question.