Right-wing media mainstay and former Trump official Russ Vought is advising a House Republican charge to drastically reduce federal aid for the working class and those in poverty, with an eye toward expanding the cuts to include universal programs — like Medicare and Social Security — in the future.
From a New York Times report:
After decades of futile efforts to cut the enormous costs of Social Security and Medicare, Republicans have pledged not to touch the biggest entitlement programs, whose spending grows automatically and are on an unsustainable trajectory as more Americans reach retirement age. Coupled with their promise not to raise taxes, that leaves the G.O.P. to consider a slash-and-burn approach to a slew of federal programs and agencies whose budgets are controlled by Congress.
As they meet privately to develop their plan, Republicans say they are relying heavily on a budget outline developed by Russell T. Vought, the former Trump administration budget director who now leads the far-right Center for Renewing America.
Vought, a Christian nationalist, heads the right-wing Center for Renewing America, a think tank closely aligned with former President Donald Trump and staffed with several officials from his administration. In addition to Vought, who served as head of the Office of Management and Budget, CRA’s staff also includes coup plotter Jeffrey Clark, former Pentagon official Kash Patel, and former Department of Homeland Security official Ken Cuccinelli.
Speaking with the Times, Vought argued conservatives should attempt to dismantle targeted programs before setting their sights on larger entitlement spending. “[A] work requirement food stamp program is a lot easier to sell than premium support,” Vought told the Times, referencing a proposed change that would turn Medicare into a voucher system.
In an interview on Fox News a day before the Times piece came out, Vought made it clear that the larger goal was to go after Social Security and Medicare down the line. “The House Republicans are not making Social Security and Medicare a fight on this debt limit,” Vought said.
“The budget that I put forward, that they’re looking at, uses Medicaid and other easier-to-go entitlements, mandatory programs, and discretionary spending to get to balance in 10,” Vought said, referring to his goal of balancing the budget in 10 years.
He then returned to Social Security and Medicare. “We have to reform those programs over time, but I think if you care about those programs and you're a budget cutter the most important thing is to make progress on what you can cut in the appropriations process,” Vought continued. “The bureaucracy that's aimed against your people and then to go after the social safety net that has become a benefit hammock.”
In contrast to the conservative approach, the Biden administration has proposed to increase taxes on income over $400,000 to address Medicare’s budget.
Former Trump adviser Steve Bannon referenced Vought when he demanded “massive cuts” to federal programs, including Medicaid, last week at the Conservative Political Action Conference.
Bannon regularly hosts Vought on his War Room podcast, and Vought is a common presence on Fox Business and occasionally on Fox News.. When Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), Lauren Boebert (R-CO), and others on the far-right flank of the GOP House caucus opposed Rep. Kevin McCarthy’s (R-CA) speakership bid earlier this year, they turned to Vought for guidance. His think tank’s budget has become something of a north star for the House MAGA caucus, and he has made clear that he wants to rid the federal government of civil servants he and his supporters deem insufficiently committed to their far-right agenda.
Now, as Congress and the White House prepare for what is likely to be a long and painstaking budgetary process, Vought and the House Republicans who have aligned themselves with him are looking to eviscerate what little social safety net spending still exists in the United States. From the Times:
The outline includes a 45 percent cut to foreign aid; adding work requirements for food stamp and Medicaid beneficiaries; a 43 percent cut to housing programs, including phasing out the Section 8 program that pays a portion of monthly rent costs for low-income people; cutting the F.B.I.’s counterintelligence budget by nearly half; and eliminating Obamacare expansions to Medicaid to save tens of billions of dollars.
Nearly 40 states have accepted federal funding for expansion under the Affordable Care Act, providing health care coverage for an estimated 12 million individuals living near or below the poverty line.
Despite Vought’s vicious attacks on the working class, he is often presented in mainstream and conservative media as a populist figure. Conservative Washington Post columnist Henry Olsen wrote that Vought was pushing ideas that “animate the new populist conservatism.” Bloomberg described Vought’s think tank as one of the “organizations designed to push [Trump’s] populist agenda.” The conservative Daily Caller described CRA as “a right-populist group Vought helms.”
In a blog post introducing his think tank, Vought decried, in typically pompous prose, the “decades-long plundering of the American economy by multinational corporations eager to claim the benefits of American law while disclaiming all responsibility to provide remunerative employment to American workers.”
He added that the Center for Renewing America would focus on “challenging the policy architecture that has hollowed out productive work for America’s working class and transferred the gains of the American economy to the service-sector elites.”
The reality is that Vought is selling the same basic framework of anti-poor, anti-working class policies championed by Republicans for decades. Whatever conservative orthodoxies Trumpism may have broken with, right-wing populism is an empty set of ideas. Vought has nothing to offer to address the material needs of the working class; to the contrary, he is their class enemy and antagonist.