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More congressional Republicans have called for cuts to Social Security and Medicare

At least 15 current senators and representatives say reductions in funding to safety net programs should be discussed.

By Josh Israel - March 14, 2023
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Rick Scott, John Thune
Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL) watches as Sen. John Thune (R-SD) speaks to reporters after a Republican strategy meeting at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, March 8, 2022. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

For weeks, Republican congressional leaders have been trying to convince voters that cuts to popular safety net programs are off the table. But a growing number of members of their caucus are doing their best to contradict their leaders.

On Sunday, Sen. John Kennedy told Fox News that the eligibility age for Social Security should be raised for people who have begun paying into the retirement system but have not yet retired.

“The life expectancy of the average American right now is about 77 years old. For people who are in their 20s, their life expectancy will probably be 85 to 90. Does it really make sense to allow someone who’s in their 20s today to retire at 62? Those are the kind of things that we should talk about,” the Louisiana Republican argued.

On the same day, South Carolina Rep. Nancy Mace told CNN she would consider a similar suggestion. When asked about Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley’s proposal to raise the retirement age for future Social Security beneficiaries, Mace replied, “I think that’s something that has to be on the table we have to look at,” noting that she would be fine with doing so “as long as it’s not anybody that’s heading into retirement right now.”

In his State of the Union address in February, President Joe Biden noted that some Republicans wanted to cut funding for safety net programs like Social Security and Medicare or make them subject to regular expiration and reapproval. GOP lawmakers booed and heckled him, and several claimed afterward that this was a lie, even though many had embraced an unpopular plan by Florida Republican Sen. Rick Scott to sunset all federal programs automatically every five years. Scott has since scrapped that portion of his proposal.

Since the start of the current Congress, Republicans have refused to raise the nation’s debt ceiling to prevent a catastrophic default by the government on payments it already owes, demanding budget cuts before they will allow discussion of such a measure. Although he did not specify which cuts Republicans were demanding, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy told the nation on Feb. 6, “Cuts to Medicare and Social Security are off the table.”

Days later, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said: “There is no agenda on the part of Senate Republicans to revisit Medicare or Social Security. Period.” according to a Feb. 14 report by the Hill.

But last week, Indiana Republican Rep. Jim Baird told a staffer for Social Security Works, an organization that works to support and expand the Social Security system, that cuts to that program were “in the discussion.”

In recent years, at least 12 other Republicans in Congress have indicated a willingness to cut entitlement programs or to make them subject to lawmakers’ discretion each year:

  • Sen. Lindsey Graham (SC) said in June 2022, “Entitlement reform is a must for us to not become Greece.”
  • Sen. Ron Johnson (WI) told Wisconsin radio station WTAQ in August 2022, “What we ought to be doing is we ought to turn everything into discretionary spending, so it’s all evaluated, so that we can fix problems or fix programs that are broken, that are going to be going bankrupt.”
  • Sen. Mike Rounds (SD) told CNN in February: “I kind of look at Social Security the way I would at the Department of Defense and our defense spending. We’re never going to not fund defense, but at the same time we, every single year, we look at how we can make it better. And I think it’s about time that we start talking about Social Security and making it better.”
  • Sen. John Thune (SD) told Bloomberg News in November 2022 that Republicans would explore raising the eligibility age for Social Security: “There’s a set of solutions there that we really need to take on if we’re going to get serious about making these programs sustainable and getting this debt bomb at a manageable level before it’s too late.”
  • Rep. Rick Allen (GA) told a Social Security Works tracker in January that he was open to raising the Social Security eligibility age, saying, “Well, you know, if people want to work longer, maybe you need to give them incentive to do it. That’s the way to solve every one of these problems, by the way, and actually grow wealth at the same time.”
  • Rep. Jodey Arrington (TX) told Bloomberg Government in October 2022, “Republicans have a list of eligibility reforms, and we don’t like the tax increases,” and reportedly suggested an increase in the eligibility age for both Medicare and Social Security.
  • Rep. Jim Banks (IN), as chair of the Republican Study Committee last year, pushed a fiscal year 2023 budget called “Blueprint to Save America.” It contained proposals to “save Social Security & Medicare from bankruptcy” via “a gradual increase of the retirement age and a reduction of benefits for high-income earners.”
  • Rep. Buddy Carter (GA) told Punchbowl News in September 2022: “This is something we’ve got to have the appetite to do. We’ve got to look at future generations and say, ‘Okay, look, the average age people are living is increasing.’… I am not suggesting anyone who’s on Social Security right now have their benefits cut. I’ll make that clear. I get it. I understand they paid into the system with the assurance that it’s going to be there for them, and I am committed to making sure that it is there for them. But there are ways that we can address it and make it sustainable.”
  • Rep. Chip Roy (TX) told CNN in December 2022 that he backed cuts to both discretionary programs and mandatory spending programs, saying, “There’s a lot of fat and garbage that’s way off the mission that we can cut.” He told the network in January, “What we have been very clear about is, we’re not going to touch the benefits that are going to people relying on the benefits under Social Security and Medicare. But we all have to be honest about sitting at the table and figuring out how we’re going to make those work, how we’re going to deal with defense spending and how we’re going to deal with nondefense discretionary spending.”
  • Rep. Lloyd Smucker (PA) told Bloomberg Government in October 2022, “We should ensure that we keep the promises that were made to the people who really need it [Social Security and Medicare], the people who are relying on it … So some sort of means-testing potentially would help to ensure that we can do that.”
  • Rep. Michael Waltz (FL) told Fox Business in January that he backed spending cuts, saying, “If we really want to talk about the debt and spending, it’s the entitlements program that’s 70% of our entire budget.” In 2018, he told iVoterGuide, “Many of the recommendations in the Simpson-Bowles bi-partisan commission such as raising the retirement age, and adjust the benefit formula, could serve as steps towards ensuring social security is solvent for future generations.”
  • Rep. Ryan Zinke (MT) told CNN in February he was “open to review” of Social Security and Medicare changes.

“Every day, another Congressional Republican demands massive cuts to the American people’s earned Social Security benefits,” Alex Lawson, executive director of Social Security Works, told the American Independent Foundation. “Despite Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy claiming otherwise, you just have to turn on any news show to find out the Republicans’ actual plans for Social Security haven’t changed: They want to cut our benefits.

“They see our Social Security as a problem, and their solution is to destroy it,” Lawson added. “If McConnell and McCarthy are serious about protecting Social Security, they can start to earn the American people’s trust back by scrapping their plans to take the debt limit hostage and passing a clean increase now.”

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.


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