WASHINGTON – After President Joe Biden punched Republicans over Social Security and health care during his State of the Union address, drawing cries of outrage from the party, Republican leaders urged him to stop telling Americans that the GOP wants to cut those retirement programs.
Then Biden visited Florida and did it again, infuriating the party and escalating a fight that is poised to unfold on Capitol Hill and into the 2024 presidential election.
“The president has been falsely stating for several weeks that there are people who want to get rid of social security and health care. And it’s been inaccurate for a long time — and you saw it last night when he tried to pin it on us,” he told NBC News a day after Biden’s speech to Congress. “I just hope he stops going around the country at tell that lie because none of it is true.
“We want to strengthen Social Security by ending a lot of these government checks on people who stay home rather than go to work,” Scalise said, endorsing work requirements for benefits.
The next day, Thursday at the University of Tampa, Biden ripped up a plan from Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., saying he will “want Social Security and health care every five years.” She also went after Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., who labeled Social Security a “Ponzi scheme” and called for it to be restructured.
“They took offense. ‘Liar! Liar!’” Biden mimicked.
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., pressed Biden to support spending cuts but said Social Security and health care should be waived. There is no GOP-approved bill to change those programs, although there are various proposals to curb them over time. The White House told NBC News that Biden will continue to criticize those Republican plans.
Biden’s attack stems from a policy agenda published last year by Scott, then the head of the Republican campaign arm in the Senate. The agenda included a section that read: “All federal laws will fall in 5 years. If a law is worth observing, Congress can pass it again.” Democrats were quick to say that such a policy, if implemented, could cause the demise of Social Security and Medicare. Republican leaders, recognizing the political dangers, have distanced themselves from them. But Biden insisted on using that and other GOP candidates’ remarks about so-called rights to drive a wedge between them and voters who rely on the programs.
Biden’s advisers also cite the 2023 budget of the Republican Study Committee, a group of more than 100 House members, which proposes raising the age of eligibility for Social Security to adjust for changing lifespans and slow the growth of benefits over time. It also includes Medicare’s “premium support” for private plans, mirroring a controversial idea former President Paul Ryan made last decade that became a flashpoint in the 2012 election.
“Republicans don’t like to be called out,” Biden said. “Many Republicans: Their dream is to cut Social Security and health care. Well, let me say this: If this is your dream, I’m your nightmare.
The gap between Democrats and Republicans
Biden’s State of the Union and subsequent trips are seen as a soft launch for his widely anticipated re-election bid, in which he intends to paint the GOP as a threat to Social Security and Medicare, the crown jewels of the led New Deal by Democrats and Great Society – leveraging decades of attempts to restructure, privatize, or reduce long-term spending on popular safety net programs.
Democrats grabbed the issue in the midterm of 2022 with some success, and now it moves onto an even bigger stage.
“It’s a smart short-term move in the fight against the debt ceiling, and it’s even smarter as we head into 2024 re-election,” said Scott Mulhauser, a former Biden aide who worked on campaigns and government. “It moves the voters, it moves the elders, it moves loyalties and alliances and it resonates”.
The political fight means Washington is delaying a showdown on how to fix the long-term finances of the programs. Trustee reports state that the Medicare trust fund is fully solvent through 2028 (after which, payments will be cut) and Social Security is solvent through 2035 (after which, scheduled benefits will shrink).
Biden’s remarks indicate that Democrats have dismissed the compromises they pursued during President Barack Obama’s first term to cut long-term benefits as a way to reduce the national debt. Those negotiations drew objections from the left and never materialized into an agreement. Since then, Democrats have backed away from potential cuts and rallied to raise revenue to expand retirement benefits.
It represents a growing gap with Republicans, who continue to rule out new taxes to fund benefits and instead believe spending needs to be curtailed in the long run.
Biden approved raising the payroll tax cap for top earners to expand Social Security payments. He has sought to expand Medicare benefits for dental, vision, and hearing services, but that effort has been blocked by some centrists, primarily Senator Joe Manchin, DW.Va.
“I’m sick of his lies”
“I have no idea what his motivation was, but I’m sick of his lies,” Rep. Beth Van Duyne, R-Texas, who looked puzzled in the House chamber as Biden launched his attack on Republicans in his state of the ‘Union .
“He has heard on more than enough occasions that Republicans are not seeking to cut but to protect those programs. And I thought it was all scaremongering on his part and an effort to deviate from his failed policies,” said Van Duyne, who sits on the Ways and Means Committee that oversees Social Security and Health Care.
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., who repeatedly yelled “Liar!” during that part of Biden’s speech, she later said: “She had lied about Republicans, saying we were going to cut Social Security, cut Medicare. And I can tell you that I have not been in a single meeting of our conference where we have talked about this.
White House spokesman Andrew Bates said in an email that protecting those programs “is paramount to President Biden’s top priority” and clarified he won’t stop announcing plans to scale them back.
“A wide range of Republican lawmakers have passed severe cuts to health care and Social Security benefits in the name of ‘fiscal responsibility,'” Bates said. “Complaining that the president is carefully shining light on plans they don’t want their constituents to know about is not quite the defense they think.”
Mulhauser said it’s “rich” to see Republicans complaining about Democrats using a tactic the GOP has often used: elevating the propositions of some in the opposing party and leading the way.
“This is also a fair fight,” he said. “And it’s especially true when these Republican positions are codified, documented in the press, introduced into legislation.”
As Republicans insist that programs are out of the question in a debt-limit bill to avoid default this year, they face a conundrum: Leaving those costly programs intact is inconsistent with calls by some conservatives to even the balance.
Biden’s move to spotlight Social Security and Medicare has also raised tensions within the GOP, particularly between Scott and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., whose advisers blame the Florida Republican for hurting GOP candidates in the 2022 election.
“It’s just a bad idea,” McConnell said Thursday of Scott’s agenda. .”
Scott, who stood by his agenda and accused Biden of “lying” about it, said Friday that McConnell was backing the Democratic president.
“He’s backing Biden again,” Scott said. “He doesn’t think we should have a plan.”
This article was originally published on NBCNews.com