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Would Republicans Really Privatize Social Security and Medicare?

New Hampshire’s GOP Senate nominee, former Army general Dan Bolduc, has resurrected the idea of privatizing government entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare. Conservatives float the idea pretty regularly. And pretty regularly the idea falls flat.

“But for some reason, they keep trying,” Natalie Allison wrote for POLITICO, “from Paul Ryan to George W. Bush.” Yet, each and every time, the idea has “been a loser.” 

Bolduc is now the latest to revive the creaky, old idea. During a town hall event in August, Bolduc responded to a nurse who was complaining about Medicare and Medicaid with: “The privatization is hugely important … getting government out of it, getting government money with strings attached out of it.”  

A Deeper Explanation of Bolduc’s Plan

After the comments were made public,  Bolduc’s spokesperson Jimmy Thompson mitigated the candidate’s statement. “Having served 10 tours in combat in Afghanistan, General Bolduc relies on his health care from the VA. He knows first-hand how important its services are to veterans, and he believes that every American who is eligible should be able to rely on the benefits they have paid into it, including Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.”

Thompson clarified declaratively, that Bolduc “will oppose any effort to privatize these programs.” 

Bolduc’s statement, calling for the privatization of entitlement programs, fit the agenda of a pocket of the GOP “who worry about the federal deficit and the growing share of the federal budget those programs take up,” Allison wrote. 

Thompson’s statement, walking back his boss’s statement, represents the political reality of entitlement programs: “they are hugely popular with voters, who plan their retirements around those benefits. And in recent years, particularly during the administration of former President Donald Trump, fiscal conservatives and deficit hawks have seen their issues relegated to the back burner while the party focused its messaging on hot-button social issues like immigration, crime and abortion.”

As Bolduc’s statements demonstrate, the idea isn’t totally dead; there are Republicans who continue to believe that privatizing entitlement programs is a cost-saving measure – and that the programs will exhaust their funding in a few years regardless. In fact, several GOP nominees have faced a backlash over their support for the privatization of entitlement programs. 

Arizona’s GOP Senate candidate, Blake Masters, mentioned privatizing Social Security last June: “We need fresh and innovative thinking. Maybe we should privatize Social Security. Private retirement accounts, get the government out of it.” Masters also said we needed to “cut the Gordian knot” regarding Medicare and Social Security

When the political reality hit Masters he recanted, saying “I think, in context, I was talking about something very different.”

J.D. Vance, the GOP Senate nominee and author of Hillbilly Elegy, also recanted his support for privatizing entitlement programs. Vance, who made the statements about a decade ago, now believes that “privatizing Social Security is a bad idea.”

“Bolduc’s remarks about privatizing Medicare will all but certainly be used against him in advertisements by Democrats,” Allison wrote, “who have long used the threat of changes to Social Security and Medicare to animate older voters.” 

Entitlement programs are generally popular but especially so amongst elderly voters, who happen to be a powerful voting bloc. “New Hampshire’s 307,000 Medicare recipients made up roughly one-quarter of the state’s population in 2020, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, while Social Security recipients totaled 321,000 in the state as of last year,” Allison wrote. So, as the recantations suggest, going after entitlement programs is a political non-starter. 

Harrison Kass is the Senior Defense Editor at 19FortyFive. An attorney, pilot, guitarist, and minor pro hockey player, he joined the US Air Force as a Pilot Trainee but was medically discharged. Harrison holds a BA from Lake Forest College, a JD from the University of Oregon, and an MA from New York University. He lives in Oregon and listens to Dokken. Follow him on Twitter @harrison_kass.

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