President Donald Trump's top economic advisor has given Democrats fresh ammunition for one of their most used midterm attacks.
Asked Monday if the Trump administration would address "entitlement reform," White House chief economic advisor Larry Kudlow said it will "probably" look at "larger entitlements" next year. Entitlement reform generally refers to changes or cuts to large government social programs such as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid or food stamps.
"I don't want to be specific, I don't want to get ahead of our own budgeting, but we'll get there," Kudlow said at the Economic Club of New York. "But I agree, we have to be tougher on spending."
Democrats, who aim to flip 23 GOP-held seats and take a House majority in November, jumped on the comments from the National Economic Council director and former CNBC contributor. As the party tries to win GOP-leaning seats, its candidates have largely focused on calls to protect health-care coverage and social safety-net programs.
Shielding Social Security and Medicare has always been a winning message for political candidates. But now, numerous Democrats have sounded alarms about Republicans trimming spending on those programs in order to make up for the estimated $1 trillion or more last year's GOP tax cuts are projected to add to budget deficits.
Various Democratic lawmakers and candidates issued warnings after Kudlow's comments. Jeff Merkley, a Democratic senator from Oregon and potential 2020 presidential candidate, tweeted that "Social Security and Medicare are on the line" in November's midterms.
Two of his party's candidates who aim to flip Republican-held seats in swing state Ohio also seized on Kudlow's remarks. Danny O'Connor, who narrowly lost the Ohio 12th District special election last month and will face off again against GOP Rep. Troy Balderson in November, tweeted that "it is just wrong" to cut taxes for corporations and then trim "earned benefits" such as Social Security and Medicare.
Aftab Pureval, who faces Republican Rep. Steve Chabot in Ohio's 1st District, also said "this irresponsible tax bill" that Chabot supported "has put Social Security and Medicare at risk."
The White House did not immediately respond to a request to comment on the Democratic criticism of Kudlow's comments. On Monday, Kudlow downplayed the effect of tax cuts on budget deficits and instead pointed to a longer-term spending problem.
"People are quick to blame deficits on tax cuts," he said. "Well, I don't buy that."
A House GOP proposal released in June called for cuts to programs including Medicare in order to balance the budget over time. Some Republicans have said the programs, particularly Social Security, are unsustainable over the long run and need to be reformed in order for them to continue. The funds that support Social Security are expected to run out of money in 2034.
Democrats have repeatedly used social safety-net programs as a talking point as they try to win tough races in November. For example, Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia pressed Trump earlier this year about whether the president would seek to cut funds from Social Security and Medicare to try to offset the revenue lost by the tax cuts.
Trump won that state by an enormous margin in 2016. He has supported GOP Senate candidate Patrick Morrisey and repeatedly bashed Manchin, who appears favored to keep his seat as of now.
The GOP is now trying to flip Democrats' Medicare arguments ahead of November's key elections. Republican candidates and Trump have contended Democrats will pull money from the health program for seniors in order to pay for Medicare for All, a single-payer system that has gained more traction recently in the Democratic Party.
"They want to raid Medicare to pay for socialism," Trump recently claimed at a rally in Indiana, where Sen. Joe Donnelly, another vulnerable Democrat, is defending his seat this year.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican trying to win a Senate seat in a state with a large population of retirees, also recently contended that "if you want to protect Medicare, vote Republican."
Medicare for All plans would actually expand Medicare benefits, not cut them.