The G.O.P. Goes Full-on Extremist

There are no moderate Republicans in the House of Representatives.

Oh, no doubt some members are privately appalled by the views of Mike Johnson, the new speaker. But what they think in the privacy of their own minds isn’t important. What matters is what they do — and every single one of them went along with the selection of a radical extremist.

In fact, Johnson is more extreme than most people, I think even political reporters, fully realize.

Much of the reporting on Johnson has, understandably, focused on his role in the efforts to overturn the 2020 election. Let me say, by the way, that the widely used term “election denial” is a euphemism that softens and blurs what we’re really talking about. Trying to keep your party in power after it lost a free and fair election, without a shred of evidence of significant fraud, isn’t just denial; it’s a betrayal of democracy.

There has also been considerable coverage of Johnson’s right-wing social views, but I’m not sure how many people grasp the depth of his intolerance. Johnson isn’t just someone who wants to legalize discrimination against L.G.B.T.Q. Americans and ban gay marriage; he’s on record as defending the criminalization of gay sex.

But Johnson’s extremism, and that of the party that chose him, goes beyond rejecting democracy and trying to turn back the clock on decades of social progress. He has also espoused a startlingly reactionary economic agenda.

Until his sudden elevation to speaker, Johnson was a relatively little-known figure. But he did serve for a time as chairman of the Republican Study Committee, a group that devises policy proposals. And now that Johnson has become the face of his party, people really should look at the budget proposal the committee released for 2020 under his chairmanship.

For if you read that proposal carefully, getting past the often mealy-mouthed language, you realize that it calls for the evisceration of the U.S. social safety net — not just programs for the poor, but also policies that form the bedrock of financial stability for the American middle class.

Start with Social Security, where the budget calls for raising the retirement age — already set to rise to 67 — to 69 or 70, with possible further increases as life expectancy rises.

On the surface, this might sound plausible. Until Covid produced a huge drop, average U.S. life expectancy at age 65 was steadily rising over time. But there is a huge and growing gap between the number of years affluent Americans can expect to live and life expectancy for lower-income groups, including not just the poor but also much of the working class. So raising the retirement age would fall hard on less fortunate Americans — precisely the people who depend most on Social Security.

Then there’s Medicare, for which the budget proposes increasing the eligibility age “so it is aligned with the normal retirement age for Social Security and then indexing this age to life expectancy.” Translation: Raise the Medicare age from 65 to 70, then keep raising it.

Wait, there’s more. Most nonelderly Americans receive health insurance through their employers. But this system depends greatly on policies that the study committee proposed eliminating. You see, benefits don’t count as taxable income — but in order to maintain this tax advantage, companies (roughly speaking) must cover all their employees, as opposed to offering benefits only to highly compensated individuals.

The committee budget would eliminate this incentive for broad coverage by limiting the tax deduction for employer benefits and offering the same deduction for insurance purchased by individuals. As a result, some employers would probably just give their top earners cash, which they could use to buy expensive individual plans, while dropping coverage for the rest of their workers.

Oh, and it goes almost without saying that the budget would impose savage cuts — $3 trillion over a decade — on Medicaid, children’s health coverage and subsidies that help lower-income Americans afford insurance under the Affordable Care Act.

How many Americans would lose health insurance under these proposals? Back in 2017 the Congressional Budget Office estimated that Donald Trump’s attempt to repeal Obamacare would cause 23 million Americans to lose coverage. The Republican Study Committee’s proposals are far more draconian and far-reaching, so the losses would presumably be much bigger.

So Mike Johnson is on record advocating policies on retirement, health care and other areas I don’t have space to get into, like food stamps, that would basically end American society as we know it. We would become a vastly crueler and less secure nation, with far more sheer misery.

I think it’s safe to say that these proposals would be hugely unpopular — if voters knew about them. But will they?

Actually, I’d like to see some focus groups asking what Americans think of Johnson’s policy positions. Here’s my guess, based on previous experience: Many voters will simply refuse to believe that prominent Republicans, let alone the speaker of the House, are really advocating such terrible things.

But they are and he is. The G.O.P. has gone full-on extremist, on economic as well as social issues. The question now is whether the American public will notice.

The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips. And here’s our email: [email protected].

Follow The New York Times Opinion section on Facebook, Twitter (@NYTopinion) and Instagram.

Back to top button