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Called out by Biden, Republicans pretend they haven't called for major safety net cuts

After Tuesday’s State of the Union address, Republicans contradicted their own previous calls for cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security.

By Josh Israel - February 08, 2023
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Kamala Harris, Kevin McCarthy and Joe Biden — State of the Union
UNITED STATES - FEBRUARY 7: Vice President Kamala Harris and Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., claps as President Joe Biden delivers his State of the Union address to Congress on Tuesday, February 7, 2023. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call via AP Images)

President Joe Biden used part of his State of the Union address on Tuesday to call out Republicans in Congress who have pushed for cuts or changes to federal safety net programs. During Biden’s speech and afterward, GOP lawmakers falsely claimed that Biden was lying, even some of the same legislators who have themselves called for major changes to Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security.

“Instead of making the wealthy pay their fair share, some Republicans want Medicare and Social Security to sunset. I’m not saying it’s a majority,” Biden said, a reference to the plan offered by Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL) and praised by several others, to make those and all other federal laws automatically expire every five years. As Republican lawmakers booed and screamed at him, he advised them, “Anybody who doubts it, contact my office. I’ll give you a copy of the proposal.”

He then noted that while he wasn’t naming individuals, some Republicans were proposing existential changes to the programs. As they continued to heckle and yell at him, Biden said, “I enjoy conversion. … So folks, as we all apparently all agree, Social Security and Medicare is off the books now? They’re not to be touched. Alright, we’ve got unanimity.”

A number of Republicans in Congress have in fact called for major cuts, not just to discretionary spending also but to automatic spending on safety net entitlement programs.

In August last year, Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson urged making every single entitlement program optional so Congress could decide annually how much to spend on it: “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.”

In October, Georgia Rep. Buddy Carter said, “Our main focus has got to be on nondiscretionary — it’s got to be on entitlements.”

Pennsylvania Rep. Lloyd Smucker called for “some sort of means-testing potentially” for the programs.

Shawn Fremstad, senior policy fellow at the Center for Economic and Policy Research, told Vox in 2021 that means-testing would be harmful. “From an effectiveness standpoint, we have a lot of evidence that more universal programs are better for a host of reasons including for helping very low-income people. It has to do with not being so burdensome, not having so much paperwork to do. There’s also a way in which more universal programs are less divisive politically.”

The Republican Study Committee, a group of 172 right-wing members of the House Republican caucus, last year released a budget for the 2023 fiscal year, called “Blueprint to Save America,” that called for significant changes to safety net programs, including raising the age of eligibility for people who have already paid into Medicare.

Just last month, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham told Fox News, “Entitlement reform is a must for us to not become Greece,” referring to that country’s financial crisis in 2010.

After Biden’s address, several Republican lawmakers accused him of having lied, including some who had actually called for cuts to those programs.

“@JoeBiden is lying through his teeth,” charged Scott. “I don’t know a single Republican who wants to cut social security or Medicare.”

“Mr. President—now that you’ve agreed with Republicans to take Medicare & Social Security off the table, do you believe the national debt is an issue?” asked Texas Rep. Jodey Arrington, who had urged “eligibility reforms” in October and suggested changes in January to the “70% [of the government’s annual spending] on auto spend.”

Montana Rep. Ryan Zinke, who told Fox News Radio last month: “I think a 10-year balance the budget, but you’ve got to do it on both sides [of the budget]. … You just can’t get there when the discretionary is 28% of the budget,” suggested on Tuesday night that Biden must be a liar or senile to think Republicans want to cut the safety net.

“Biden knows Republicans don’t want to cut Medicare or Social Security because we very clearly told him that. So that leaves only two scenarios: 1. He’s lying 2. His memory is slipping & can’t remember the conversation he had with @SpeakerMcCarthy last week,” he tweeted. “Neither is good.”

On Wednesday morning, Zinke told CNN that Congress should consider changes to both Social Security and Medicare to find possible savings, saying, “I am open to review and sitting down there in an honest dialogue.”

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.


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