The debt ceiling issue has created both a major national economic crisis and a severe political crisis within the Republican caucus of the US House of Representatives. The Republican House caucus and its leader, Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy have been taken hostage by its most extremist MAGA fringe, as exemplified by such House MAGA authoritarian lunatics as Marjorie Taylor Greene and Paul Gosar.
The prevailing Republican MAGA-dominated House of Representatives will refuse to raise the debt ceiling and insist on an economically disabling low spending ceiling and draconian spending cuts. This remedy will result in present and future economic hardship for millions of Americans.
Until these spending reductions are enacted, the federal government will be in default, with ruinous domestic and worldwide economic consequences, including increased interest rates, inflation, severe stock market downturn, and recession. Yet these immediate economic woes pale in comparison to the disaster facing the future retirement status of Americans presently under the age of 54.
The Republican MAGA proposal for fiscal 2023 would gradually increase the eligibility ages for Social Security and Medicare, and change the Social Security benefit formula for people 54 and younger, while not changing it for people closer to receiving benefits. So Americans presently under the age of 54 are consigned to a retirement of poverty. The concept of Social Security being a contract between the generations is forevermore destroyed.
These Republican Social Security and Medicare benefit slashes would have a most deleterious impact on the reelection prospects of Republican members of the House of Representatives who represent swing districts. The list of these reelection jeopardized Republican House of Representatives members would include New Jersey’s Tom Kean, Jr., representing New Jersey’s most quintessential swing district, the Seventh.
Tom Kean, Jr. now faces the Hobson’s choice of defeat by his Democratic opponent in the 2024 Congressional general election campaign or defeat in the 2024 Republican Congressional primary by a Republican MAGA extremist supported financially and otherwise in a purge effort by the Kevin McCarthy-Marjorie Taylor Greene-Paul Gosar cabal.
Yet reelection defeat is not the worst of the political prospects facing Tom Kean, Jr. If he supports the MAGA debt ceiling and Social Security/Medicare evisceration proposals, he will betray the Social Security legacy established by his grandfather, Robert Kean, the man recognized almost universally as the greatest New Jersey Republican member of the US House of Representatives during the past century.
As described by New Jersey’s leading political historian, Alvin S. Felzenberg, in his landmark historical biography, Governor Tom Kean: From the New Jersey Statehouse to the 9-11 Commission, Robert Kean was known by millions of New Jerseyans as “Mr. Social Security”. He earned this legacy due to 1) his decades long efforts to extend Social Security benefits to domestic servants and agricultural workers, many of whom were African-American, and 2) his expertise as to the inner workings of the Social Security system.
Tom Kean, Jr. has now reached a political Rubicon. He can engage in an ignominious betrayal of the hallowed political and governmental Social Security legacy of Robert Kean. If he chooses this path, he will forever be defined as a cowering political poltroon.
There is, however, an alternative path of honor for Tom Kean, Jr. He can bravely defy the political thugs of the MAGA House Republican leadership and oppose their nefarious plan to impoverish and endanger the health of future generations of Americans who have earned and deserve full Social Security and Medicare benefits. By doing so, Tom Kean, Jr. can establish his own legacy of political courage and earn a well-deserved place in the New Jersey pantheon of Supreme Political Honor.
Alan J. Steinberg served as regional administrator of Region 2 EPA during the administration of former President George W. Bush and as executive director of the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission.