"The Real Bipartisan Compromise: Cut Spending on the Rich," is the headline over a piece by Charles Blahous at Economic Policies for the 21st Century. He writes that by slowing the growth of Medicare and Social Security benefits for higher earners and by cutting or reducing farm subsidies to higher earners, "they can simultaneously advance Republican objectives of containing the growth of government, while also advancing the Democratic message of targeting federal resources on those of greatest need – and all while reducing federal deficits....Each party would also acquire a new defense against one of the other side's primary political attacks: Democrats would have shown a willingness to address runaway spending growth, while Republicans would have demonstrated their willingness to go after 'the rich.'"
Mr. Blahous acknowledges that "Some on the far left will see such reforms as part of an insidious plot to weaken popular support for cherished programs." But he doesn't specifically address possible objections on the right. I've written here about "reverse Robin-Hood" so the idea of cutting government redistribution to the rich from the poor has a strong basic attraction to me. But several objections to Mr. Blahous's plan come to mind. First, the federal government is already pretty strongly redistributing in this country from rich to poor via the "progressive" income tax code and via the many, many means-tested federal programs, from food stamps to Pell grants. I don't see why Republicans, or the rich, would want to tilt the system even more strongly against the rich than it already is tilted. Second, and related, there's a kind of rule-of-law and egalitarian principle that the government on some basic level should treat everyone the same rather than dividing Americans up into various income categories. Third, and also related, you start getting into some consent-of-the-governed issues when the 80% decide to balance the budget by cutting benefits (or reducing the growth rate of the benefits) for the 20% who are already paying a large share and already getting less in return.
There does seem to be a lot of support for some variation on this "means-testing" of Social Security or Medicare on the right, but I don't think the objections raised above have been fully, or even partially, dealt with by the advocates. The usual response is either, well, some parts of Medicare are already means-tested, and the Social Security formula is already redistributive, so you've already lost the argument, or well, how else do you propose to balance the budget?