Letting the Debt Ceiling Cave In on Seniors

Messing with the debt ceiling could alienate the voters most important to the GOP: senior citizens.

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Democrats used to be able to count on the senior citizen vote.  After all, it was FDR who created Social Security and Lyndon Johnson who created Medicare. But, hello, that was about 75 years ago and 50 years ago, respectively! Times do change.

As I like to scream at my Democratic friends, the post-65 generation were Ronald Reagan voters and had zip to do with FDR and LBJ.

As most now know, the only age group to support John McCain was the 65+ crowd and Romney beat Obama handily among seniors in 2012. Romney got 56 percent of the senior vote and McCain go 53 percent to Obama's 45 percent in 2008.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the Republican Party.]

The 45-64 group was very close in 2008 and Romney narrowly won it in 2012. And this was when Obama was the first Democrat since Carter in 1976 to receive more than 50 percent of the vote.

So what is my point?

Republicans have taken serious hits for their efforts to shut down the government and their possible refusal to raise the debt limit. In my blog post last week, I quoted Ronald Reagan on the debt limit. He got the message; he never drank the Kool Aid on that one.

But here is a very serious problem for the Republicans. If they really go through with their draconian plan, sure it hurts everyone, hurts the economy big time. But who does it especially freak out? You got it, senior citizens.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the budget and deficit.]

Why? The retired and those who live on fixed incomes and who have to draw on their retirement accounts get hammered. The last time the Republicans even threatened to hold the debt limit hostage in 2011, the stock market went down 17 percent.

Let me repeat that: After the debacle of 2008 and the economic meltdown, the stock market took a 17 percent hit for one reason and one reason only  – Republicans doing what Reagan had warned against. Plus, the U.S. credit was downgraded, which was unprecedented.

Seniors can't afford to have that happen again and they know it – their 401(k)'s can not become 201(k)'s. The crash in 2008 and the double digit hit in 2011, if repeated, will affect those who are retired and those planning on retirement, and that is about 50 percent of the voters. If Republicans lose substantial numbers of those who are over 50 years old, it won't just impact their chances of winning the presidency, with the changing demographics of race and ethnicity, but it could well spell disaster for them in the mid-term elections as well. Republicans could lose the House and not make the gains they want in the Senate.

[See a collection of political cartoons on Congress.]

Republicans may think they are going strong with their base of tea party radicals bashing the Affordable Care Act, but nothing impacts voters as much as watching their monthly savings and retirement statements tank.

Seniors and upcoming retirees watch their stocks and bonds and IRAs and 401(k)'s like a hawk and if Republicans get the blame for big losses, trust me, they will feel it big time at the polls next November and for many Novembers to come.

Shutting down the government and defaulting on our obligations are not just bad policy, but they are really bad politics for the Republicans. They simply cannot afford to watch their advantage with the 50+ age group evaporate.

The real question is will the Republicans come to their senses?  It is not a sure bet.

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