Conservatives and business leaders worried about the deficit take aim at Social Security and Medicare

One would have thought that after saddling the U.S. economy with a tax cut costing $1.5 trillion over 10 years, conservatives and their patrons in corporate America would soft-pedal the usual attacks on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

One would be wrong.

Recently, the drumbeats for cuts in social insurance benefits have been sounding louder. As is traditional, the call for cutbacks is placed in the context of concern about rising federal deficits. Just two weeks ago, five economists and thinkers at the conservative Hoover Institution evoked the "debt crisis" in the pages of the Washington Post. They attributed the crisis to "sharply rising entitlement spending" in coming years.

"To address the debt problem, Congress must reform and restrain the growth of entitlement programs and adopt further pro-growth tax and regulatory policies," wrote the Hooverites, Michael J. Boskin, John H. Cochrane, John F. Cogan, George P. Shultz and John B. Taylor. As for the tax cut bill enacted in December, the sages said not to worry: They called it "a good first step, as it sharply increases the incentive to invest and grow businesses, which will increase incomes.

More on that fatuous assertion in a moment. For now, let's outsource our calculation of the real cost of the tax cuts to the uncompromising deficit hawks at the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. They reckon that the cuts could cost as much as $1.7 trillion over a decade, net of any economic gains it might engender.

The Hoover fellows aren't alone in calling for cutting social programs, effectively to pay for tax cuts that go overwhelmingly to corporations and the wealthy. We've documented how Republicans such as House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida started calling for benefit cuts even as the tax bill was making its way through Congress. Just last week, Jamie Dimon, the chairman and chief executive of the giant bank JPMorgan Chase, weighed in on the topic in his annual letter to shareholders. (We covered Dimon's treatment of healthcare costs in the letter here.)

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