The new proposal from a group of 176 House Republicans would raise the retirement age for Social Security and Medicare, ban free school meals for students, cut spending on food aid, and weaken environmental protections.
The 2024 election is more than a year away, but we got a glimpse into the priorities of House Republicans last week, when the Republican Study Committee (RSC) released its proposed budget for the 2024 fiscal year, a 167-page document that calls for making cuts to Social Security and Medicare, eliminating free school meals for kids, and a whole lot more.
The RSC is a group of conservative House members that was formed in 1973 and includes about three-quarters of House Republicans, including 176 lawmakers from 38 states. There are three Virginia representatives on the committee: Rep. Ben Cline, Rep. Bob Good, and Rep. Robert J. Wittman.
The sheer size of the RSC effectively makes the group’s budget document a reliable indicator of where the larger House GOP caucus stands on key issues.
Here are five of the most notable proposals in the RSC’s new budget:
Gutting Social Security and Medicare
With the release of the Republican Study Committee’s budget, Republicans have ramped back up their attacks on these programs.
The proposed budget would make cuts to Social Security by raising the retirement age, though it does not specifically say what that new retirement age would be. Benefits would also be reduced for those who earned a “higher salary” before retirement, but the budget again does not specify what that threshold would be. The budget also assures that there would only be “modest adjustments” to Social Security as it operates now, but again, does not outline exactly what that means.
“The budget fearmongers about Social Security’s modest shortfall (still a decade away) but then rules out any options for raising revenue, such as requiring billionaires to contribute even a penny more,” Nancy Altman, president of Social Security Works, a nonprofit which aims to expand social programs, said in a statement. “That leaves benefit cuts as the only ‘solution.’ In other words, they want to cut benefits now to avoid cutting them later, which isn’t a solution at all.”
The budget also proposes requiring disabled people to wait longer before they can access Medicare benefits. GOP lawmakers are in favor of turning Medicare into a “premium support system,” where seniors would instead receive a subsidy they could use on private plans competing against traditional Medicare. This could lead to thousands of dollars in additional out of pocket costs for American seniors across the United States, and would siphon Medicare funds to private insurance companies.
“Premium support ends the Medicare guarantee,” Social Security Works said in its statement. “Instead, seniors must fend for themselves on the open market with nothing but a coupon to offset as much of the cost of the insurance that they can find.”
Making Trump’s Tax Cuts Permanent
In February, a group of more than 70 House Republicans introduced legislation that would make former President Donald Trump’s 2017 tax cuts for individuals—which primarily benefited the super rich—permanent.
The Republican Study Committee’s Budget also wants to make the individual provisions of Trump’s tax cuts—which gave a roughly $49,000 tax cut to the top 1%, and only $500 to those in the bottom 60%—permanent. Doing so, according to a Congressional Budget Office analysis, would cost around $2.2 trillion through 2032, spiking the national debt. A Tax Policy Center analysis also estimated that the extension would deliver an average tax cut of $175,710 to the richest 0.1%.
The budget also proposes eliminating the estate tax, which only impacts those who inherit assets worth at least $13 million.
Banning Universal Free School Meals
Many states across the country have passed legislation—or are in the process of passing legislation—that would provide universal free school meals to children, a proven way to reduce childhood hunger, improve students’ health and academic performance, and save families money on groceries.
A bill was introduced in Virginia this year that would establish universal free meals for elementary and secondary school students across the commonwealth. The bill, which was blocked by the Republican-led state House, would also simultaneously render all existing school lunch debt obsolete.
The Republican Study Committee’s budget aims to put a stop to such measures. It specifically states that eliminating the Community Eligibility Provision, or CEP, from the National School Lunch Program, is a priority. The budget states that this is because “CEP allows certain schools to provide free school lunches regardless of the individual eligibility of each student.”
Not every school in the United States even participates in this program. In reality, it’s a meal service program reserved for qualifying schools and districts in low-income areas. It allows for American children from low-income backgrounds to eat during their school day, without schools having to collect household applications, or “means-test” their students, which effectively means limiting eligibility for certain populations due to their income.
Means-testing has also been shown to inadvertently exclude people who are eligible for certain programs due to the red tape that is created by implementing such income limits and tests. And as Vox notes, “means testing has also long been associated with a moral argument that some segments of the population are deserving of government benefits, while others are not.”
Research has also shown that the CEP program “improves food security and nutritional outcomes” for children. The Republican Study Committee Budget aims to put a stop to that.
New Work Requirements for Federal Programs and Cutting Benefits
The RSC budget also calls for “all federal benefit programs [to] be reformed to include work promotion requirements.” Certain requirements have always had to be met to be eligible for these programs, but the RSC budget extends them so dramatically that millions of Americans could be at risk of losing key aid they need to survive.
For example, the budget references the “significantly lower labor force participation rate of 64.6% for those aged 55-64,” and states that the solution to this “problem” is extending work requirements for this group of people. As The New Republic notes, there could be any number of reasons why fewer people in that age group are working: physical or mental health issues, needing to help take care of family, and more.
Instead of addressing any of those issues, the budget proposes that the solution is having older Americans work more in order to qualify for certain federal benefits.
These programs include the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (which helps 41 million Americans feed their families every year). The budget also proposes instead that SNAP be converted into a “discretionary block grant,” given to states based on rates of unemployment, poverty, and the length of time beneficiaries receive aid.
While Republicans have long embraced block grants, economic experts have pointed out that because funding levels for block grants are typically fixed, there’s no flexibility to increase funding to respond to recessions, natural disasters, or simple increases in demand for a program.
For example, if states’ SNAP programs were funded via block grants during the pandemic—when millions more families needed food aid and relied on the program—it would have made it more difficult for the government to actually respond to the crises by boosting SNAP benefits, as they did. In a scenario where SNAP was funded via block grants, states would have either had to cut eligibility or benefits, or take on the higher costs.
Weakening Environmental Protections
While this is all happening—and instead of proposing solutions—the Republican Study Committee’s budget wants to reinstate former president Trump’s deregulatory executive orders, which include a range of orders related to environmental protection.
For example, the Trump administration replaced the Clean Power Plan, which helped reduce electricity sector greenhouse gas emissions, with the Affordable Clean Energy rule, which did not set greenhouse gas emission guidelines for states using emission performance rates. An analysis conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found that unlike the Clean Power Plan, the ACE rule would increase CO2 emissions by over 60 million short tons by 2030.
The Trump administration also lifted oil and natural gas extraction bans. According to the World Wildlife Fund, oil and gas exploration and development “causes disruption of migratory pathways, degradation of important animal habitats, and oil spills—which can be devastating to the animals and humans who depend on these ecosystems.”
Trump’s administration also weakened the Coal Ash Rule, which regulates the disposal of toxic coal waste. Without regulation, coal waste can pollute waterways, ground water, drinking water, and the air, according to the EPA.
The Republican Study Committee’s budget proposes that these environmental risks, and many more, be reinstated.