Jerry Kremer

The eight-decade-long effort to cut the social safety net


Even though I’ve always been involved in politics, I don’t come from a family where politics dominated the nightly dinner-table discussions. On a few rare occasions, my father would offer his opinions about some topic that was in the news, wanting to make sure I got the message.

His strongest advice was on the issue of Social Security. I still remember his admonition about the people who would like to do away with it. He remarked that the “grandchildren of those people will try hard to take away our benefits, and you should watch out for them when you’re my age.” Obviously, his message pertains to the people who currently want to repeal the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare.

In a nation that stands out as a beacon to the world, I’ve never understood why there’s a group of people who are determined to take away every benefit that middle- and low-income citizens enjoy. Dating back to the days of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the Republican Party and the conservative movement have been determined to wipe entitlements off the map. Even if it hurts its own voters, the party of Lincoln has targeted programs that help people.

A Washington Post article recently recited the bleak history of the efforts to take away benefits. The “anti” movement continued its crusade from the Roosevelt era to 1952, under the presidency of Dwight Eisenhower. Eisenhower rejected the efforts to repeal Social Security, and before he left office he expanded the scope of the program. President Richard Nixon, under pressure from his party, refused to touch Social Security, and his successor, Gerald Ford, took the same path.

President Ronald Reagan attacked Medicare in the 1960s, but by the time he campaigned for the White House in 1980 he had backed off on his opposition. In 2005, President George W. Bush proposed that a portion of Social Security benefits be changed over to 401(k) accounts. Under his plan, recipients would have made the decisions about how to invest their hard-earned benefits. It didn’t take too long before that proposal was shot down by an angry public.

The latest proposal to scrap the Affordable Care Act isn’t having an easy ride to passage. Programs that give people benefits have long been called the “third rail” of politics, and the Republican Party is finding that out. One bloc of the House of Representatives just wants the law repealed. The members of another group, who represent districts that Hillary Clinton won in November, are shaking in their boots over the idea of taking away people’s health care benefits.

The real problem for the Republicans in the House is that if they pass a bill that cuts millions of people off from the ACA and it dies in the Senate, they’ll be on record as being in favor of a bad bill. The midterm elections usually aren’t very good for the party in power, and a bad vote on a one-house bill could end many careers in 2018.

President Trump is pushing hard for a bill to pass, but he’ll have to deal with the fact that seven of the states where he won big would be badly damaged if the current proposal passes. The main advocates for the ACA repeal come to the table with zero credibility. If anything, they’re prepared to lie with straight faces just to get any bill passed. House Speaker Paul Ryan is desperate to get something done, and will say anything. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price has said that “nobody will be worse off financially” if the bill passes. He and Ryan deserve Pinocchio awards.

The people that my father warned me about are hell-bent on taking health care away from millions of their fellow citizens. I’m sure that if we did some serious research, we’d find out that today’s repealers have political ancestors dating back to the 1930s.

Jerry Kremer was a state assemblyman for 23 years, and chaired the Assembly’s Ways and Means Committee for 12 years. He now heads Empire Government Strategies, a business development and legislative strategy firm. Comments about this column?