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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

The Real GOP Record on Cutting Social Security and Medicare

Before we let go of the GOP’s SOTU meltdown, have a gander at “What Republicans have actually said about cuts to Social Security and Medicare” by Julia Shapero, who writes at The Hill:

Biden and Democratic lawmakers have repeatedly accused Republicans of attempting to target Medicare and Social Security in potential spending cuts that they hope to tie to a debt ceiling increase. However, Republicans have denied that the entitlement programs are at risk.

But some prominent Republicans have previously suggested cuts to the programs. Here’s what they actually said about cuts and changes to Social Security and Medicare.

At the center of the current debate over the federal entitlement programs is an 11-point plan released by Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) last February, which called for all federal legislation to sunset after five years as part of an effort to curb government spending.

“All federal legislation sunsets in 5 years. If a law is worth keeping, Congress can pass it again,” the document said.

This would require Congress to renew Social Security and Medicare every five years. Scott’s proposal also called for a yearly report from Congress “telling the public what they plan to do when Social Security and Medicare go bankrupt.”….

Former Vice President Mike Pence, who has indicated that he is considering a bid for the presidency in 2024, said last week that a conversation needs to be had about reforming Social Security….Pence suggested that the U.S. government allow young Americans to put part of their Social Security withholdings into a private savings account overseen by the government, which could potentially generate more than current Social Security accounts.

When Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) initially ran for Senate in 2010, he called for the complete elimination of Social Security.

“It will be my objective to phase out Social Security, to pull it up by the roots and get rid of it,” Lee said at a campaign event in 2010, adding, “There’s going to be growing pains associated with doing this. We can’t do it all at once.”….However, the Utah Republican appears to have since tempered his views on entitlement programs…..“I don’t recall ever having advocated for dismantling those — that’s sensitive stuff,” he said in an October interview with the Daily Herald…..“I think, we oughta look to, after we get it solvent, look to the idea of allowing people, if they want to, to at least identify some portion of their social security payments to go into a private account,” he added, appearing to promote a similar idea to Pence.

Similar to Scott, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) has suggested that Congress regularly renew the entitlement programs. However, Johnson has proposed that it be done on an annual basis.

“I’ve been saying for as long as I’ve been here that we should transfer everything, put everything on budget so we have to consider it if every year. I’ve said that consistently, it’s nothing new,” Johnson told “The Regular Joe Show” podcast last August….

The Republican Study Committee, the largest conservative caucus in the House, has called for increasing the threshold for Medicare to 67 years of age and Social Security to 70 years of age in an effort to avoid the programs’ trust funds from becoming insolvent, per its fiscal 2023 budget. The group includes more than 150 Republican members of the House, the majority of the GOP caucus.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) suggested in a debate in June that a bipartisan compromise on the issue will likely mean that “people like me are going to have to take a little less and pay a little more in.”….Like the Republican Study Committee, he also suggested adjusting the qualifying age for Social Security and Medicare upward….

In reality, however, Republicans opposed both Social Security and Medicare from the get-go, blasting the two programs as “socialism.” Go back to 1952, when Democratic President Harry Truman flagged their campaign to smear Social Security and noted that “socialism is what they called Social Security….socialism is their name for almost anything that helps all the people.”

Democratic President Lyndon B. Johnson spearheaded the Medicare struggle and signed it into law. And Democrats overwhelmingly supported Medicare in both the House (237-48 among Democrats) and Senate (57-7 among Democrats) votes in 1965. For Republicans, however, the breakdown of the Medicare vote was 13 Senators in favor of Medicare, and 17 against. In the House, 70 Republicans voted for creating Medicare, with 68 against it.

Despite the aforementioned examples, most of today’s Republicans in congress don’t openly advocate cuts in Social Security and Medicare. But there is not much reason to doubt that many of them would support carefully camouflaged cuts in the two programs.

Shapero’s account doesn’t name any of the GOP House members who today want to slash or eliminate Social Security and Medicare. Is there a chance that Biden’s calling out Republicans at the SOTU will force them to abandon their schemes to gut the two programs, which are hugely popular, especially with high turnout senior voters? Maybe in the short run. More likely they will modify their rhetoric with language that will give them some “deniability.”

But the bottom line is that Republicans can not be trusted to leave Social Security and Medicare intact, no matter what they say. Mitch McConnell has pretty much nuked the credibility of the G.O.P.’s promises of bipartisan comity and trust. What Biden showed at the SOTU on Tuesday is that there is only one party that is genuinely committed to preserving Social Security and Medicare for coming generations — and that party is clearly not the Republicans.

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