Last night, President Joe Biden called out Congressional Republicans for their plans to cut Social Security and Medicare. Several Republicans erupted in outrage, and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) yelled “liar.” In response, Biden said “I enjoy conversion…as we all apparently agree, Social Security and Medicare is off the books now, right?” and urged the entire room to “stand up for seniors.” Many Republicans in the room, including Speaker Kevin McCarthy, stood up and applauded.
This was a masterful moment of stagecraft from President Biden. But no one should mistake it for any real commitment from Republicans to back off their deeply held desire to cut Social Security and Medicare. Fortunately, Biden himself doesn’t appear to be making any such mistake.
After the speech, Biden tweeted “Look: I welcome all converts. But now, let’s see your budget.” Similarly, Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said yesterday afternoon that McCarthy “says he wants cuts, where? He hasn't named a single place where he wants them. Is it going to be Social Security or Medicare? Don't just say no, prove it. Show us your plan."
Biden and Schumer are right. Republicans have a long history of trying to cut Social Security and Medicare. Republican leaders keep saying — often to their donors behind closed doors — that they want to do it. Most recently, former Vice President Mike Pence told a closed door conference that he wants to “replace the New Deal with a better deal” by privatizing Social Security, handing our earned benefits over to Wall Street.
Pence was only the latest in a long line of Republicans with plans to cut Social Security and Medicare. Last year, the Republican Study Committee, which counts about 75 percent of House Republicans as members, released a budget that would raise the retirement age for Social Security and Medicare to 70, decimate middle class Social Security benefits, and voucherize Medicare. These are the very same House Republicans who erupted in outrage last night!
The story is no different in the Senate, where Senator John Thune (R-SD), the second highest ranking Republican in the Senate, has said that he wants to use the debt limit to force cuts to Social Security and other programs. Thune specifically endorsed raising the retirement age.
Thune’s colleagues have plans of their own. Last year, Senator Rick Scott (R-FL) released a plan to put Social Security and Medicare on the chopping block every five years. Scott recently compared spending on the programs to “alcoholism.” Not to be outdone, Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) wants to turn Social Security and Medicare into discretionary spending, putting them in jeopardy every year, and says that Social Security was “set up improperly.”
Yet despite all these plans, Republicans realize that cutting Social Security and Medicare is incredibly unpopular, even with their own voters. That’s why, when Biden put them on the spot, they had no choice but to stand and applaud for protecting benefits. And it’s why they’re so desperate to go behind closed doors and force Democrats to cut benefits, so that the public can’t see which party’s fingerprints are on the cuts.
Two bills, the TRUST Act and the Bipartisan Social Security Commission Act, would do just that. Both of these bills would create fast-tracked commissions to cut Social Security and Medicare behind closed doors. They are designed to give politicians cover to enact unpopular benefit cuts and claim they had no choice.
The Biden Administration has rightfully called these bills “death panels” for Social Security and Medicare. Democrats must stand strong and refuse to go behind closed doors with Republicans. They must continue to make it clear, as Biden did last night, that only a clean increase in the debt limit with no cuts to Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, or any other program is acceptable.
Additionally, Democrats should follow the lead of Biden and Schumer by continuing to demand Republicans release their specific budget plan. Until Republicans release a budget that doesn’t cut a single penny from current or future Social Security and Medicare benefits, their claims that the programs are “off the table” are empty words. Furthermore, every member of Congress — Republicans and Democrats alike — should take the pledge to never cut Social Security and Medicare under any circumstances.
Democrats should make it clear to the American people which party supports Social Security by holding a vote on expanding, never cutting, Social Security’s modest benefits. Democratic legislators have already authored several plans to do just that. President Biden ran on a similar plan. Now, he should release an official White House plan that expands Social Security with no cuts and requires the wealthiest to pay their fair share.
Then, Biden should challenge Republicans to release their own plan for Social Security and hold a vote. Let the American people see, in the light of day, the plan that each party has for the future of our earned benefits.