Biden Says Social Security Is on the ‘Chopping Block’ if Republicans Win Congress

The fate of America’s social safety net programs has re-emerged as a campaign issue ahead of November’s midterm elections.

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This article is part of our Midterms 2022 Daily Briefing

Biden Says Social Security Is on the ‘Chopping Block’ if Republicans Win Congress |

President Biden’s comments on Tuesday were part of a push by Democrats to steer the political conversation away from growing recession fears.

WASHINGTON — President Biden warned on Tuesday that Republicans posed a threat to Social Security and Medicare, amplifying an effort by Democrats to make the fate of America’s social safety net programs a central campaign issue ahead of November’s midterm elections.

The comments were part of a push by Democrats across the country to steer the political conversation away from soaring prices and growing recession fears and remind anxious voters that some Republicans have been calling for restructuring or scaling back entitlement programs that retirees have relied on for decades.

The strategy is a return to a familiar election-year theme. Although Mr. Biden, who spoke from the White House’s Rose Garden, offered few details about how he would preserve the benefits, he insisted that if Republicans regained control of Congress they would try to take them away.

“What do you think they’re going to do?” Mr. Biden asked, brandishing a copy of a plan drafted by Senator Rick Scott, Republican of Florida, that would allow Social Security and Medicare to “sunset” if Congress did not pass new legislation to extend them.

Mr. Scott’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The criticism has put Republicans on the defensive, with many arguing that their policies would ensure that Social Security and Medicare do not run out of money.

With the primaries over, both parties are shifting their focus to the general election on Nov. 8.

  • A Focus on Crime: In the final phase of the midterm campaign, Republicans are stepping up their attacks about crime rates, but Democrats are pushing back.
  • Pennsylvania Governor’s Race: Doug Mastriano, the Trump-backed G.O.P. nominee, is being heavily outspent and trails badly in polling. National Republicans are showing little desire to help him.
  • Megastate G.O.P. Rivalry: Against the backdrop of their re-election bids, Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas and Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida are locked in an increasingly high-stakes contest of one-upmanship.
  • Rushing to Raise Money: Senate Republican nominees are taking precious time from the campaign trail to gather cash from lobbyists in Washington — and close their fund-raising gap with Democratic rivals.

Despite suggestions of their imminent demise, Social Security and Medicare are unlikely to be altered as long as Mr. Biden is in power. Top Republicans including Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader, have said that Mr. Scott’s proposal is a nonstarter.

But decades of political squabbling have left the programs in limbo.

Tens of millions of aging Americans rely on Social Security and Medicare to supplement their income and health care expenses. The finances of Social Security and Medicare have been on unstable ground for years, and Congress has been unable to come together to find a solution to secure the solvency of the programs.

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Government actuaries said in June that the health of the social safety net programs improved slightly last year, because of the strength of the economic recovery, but that shortfalls were still looming.

Mr. Biden did not offer a specific proposal for the programs on Tuesday beyond keeping them out of the hands of Republicans. He also took aim at Senator Ron Johnson, a Wisconsin Republican who is facing re-election and has suggested that all federal spending, including for Social Security and Medicare, should be reviewed annually by Congress.

“He wants to put Social Security and Medicare on the chopping block every single year in every budget,” Mr. Biden said. “If Congress doesn’t vote to keep it, goodbye.”

Mr. Johnson said on Twitter on Tuesday that he wanted to save Social Security, Medicare and benefits for veterans, and that Democrats were telling “lies” about his proposals.

“The greatest threat to these programs is the massive, out-of-control deficit spending enacted by Biden and Dems in congress,” Mr. Johnson said.

The Social Security Old-Age and Survivors Insurance Trust Fund, which pays retiree benefits, will be depleted in 2034, at which time the fund’s reserves will run down and incoming tax revenue will be enough to cover only 77 percent of scheduled benefits. Medicare’s hospital trust fund, which does not affect benefits that cover doctor visits and prescription drugs, improved last year but is expected to encounter a shortfall in 2028.

Concerns about the solvency of the programs come as retirees are grappling with the highest levels of inflation in four decades. Social Security payments are expected to increase by around 9 percent next month when a cost-of-living adjustment that is pegged to inflation is announced.

Those increases are usually somewhat offset by an increase in Medicare premiums for doctors’ visits, but Mr. Biden said those premiums would not rise this year.

Senators like Bernie Sanders, independent of Vermont, and Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts, called earlier for expanding Social Security and extending its solvency by raising taxes on the rich.


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