Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) speaks to members of the media as Republican Sens. John Barrasso (Wyo.), John Thune (S.D.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) listen after a weekly Senate Republican Policy Luncheon at the U.S. Capitol on February 5, 2019 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

'Hell No,' Say Progressives, After GOP Sen. Joni Ernst Suggests Cutting Social Security 'Behind Closed Doors'

"No matter how hard you try to hide, the American people will be watching—and we won't let you cut our earned Social Security benefits."

Jake Johnson

Republican Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa is under fire after telling a town hall audience last weekend that members of Congress should negotiate changes to Social Security "behind closed doors" in order to dodge scrutiny from the media and advocacy groups.

Ernst, who is running for reelection in 2020, complained to the crowd gathered in Estherville, Iowa that "the minute you say we need to address Social Security, the media is hammering you, the opposing party is hammering you—there goes granny over a cliff."

"The GOP wants to cut our earned Social Security benefits—and they want to do it behind closed doors so that they don't have to pay the political price."
—Nancy Altman, Social Security Works

Lawmakers should therefore meet in secret to avoid "being scrutinized by this group or the other," said the Iowa Republican.

Ernst did not recommend specific changes to Social Security during her town hall appearance, but the senator has in the past suggested privatization of the widely popular program as "one solution."

A video of Ernst's remarks was posted on Youtube Tuesday by the Democratic super PAC American Bridge, and the comments quickly generated outrage on social media.

Nancy Altman, president of progressive advocacy group Social Security Works, wrote Friday that Ernst "said out loud what Republican politicians usually only talk about in secret meetings with their billionaire donors: the GOP wants to cut our earned Social Security benefits—and they want to do it behind closed doors so that they don't have to pay the political price."

Altman said any changes Congress makes to Social Security should expand the program's benefits, and the improvements should be made in public.

"All of us who have a stake in Social Security—which is every one of us—should insist that those seeking our vote tell us if they support expanding or cutting Social Security," wrote Altman. "If they refuse to tell us, if they ramble on about their desire to 'save' or 'fix' or 'strengthen' Social Security in secret, we should draw the obvious inference: They want to cut Social Security."

Ernst's comments came as President Donald Trump is reportedly considering cuts to Social Security and Medicare as a possible "second-term project."

As the Washington Post reported in July, Trump ordered his aides to "prepare for sweeping budget cuts if he wins a second term in the White House."

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate who in February introduced legislation to expand Social Security by hiking taxes on the rich, said Friday that he has "some bad news" for Republicans who want to gut Social Security in secret.

"We're not going to cut Social Security benefits," Sanders tweeted. "We're going to expand them."


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

Because of people like you, another world is possible. There are many battles to be won, but we will battle them together—all of us. Common Dreams is not your normal news site. We don't survive on clicks. We don't want advertising dollars. We want the world to be a better place. But we can't do it alone. It doesn't work that way. We need you. If you can help today—because every gift of every size matters—please do. Without Your Support We Simply Don't Exist.

'Infuriating Disappointment': Biden DHS Ramping Up Deportations to Haiti

"It is unconscionable for the Biden administration to resume deportation flights to Haiti, despite the country's ongoing political, economic, and environmental disasters."

Jessica Corbett ·


Architect of Texas Abortion Ban Takes Aim at LGBTQ+ Rights While Urging Reversal of Roe

"Make no mistake, the goal is to force extreme, outdated, religious-driven values on all of us through the courts."

Jessica Corbett ·


Ahead of Canadian Election, Bernie Sanders and Rashida Tlaib Endorse NDP

"Bernie, you have fought courageously for public healthcare, affordable medication, making the rich pay their fair share, and tackling the climate crisis," said party leader Jagmeet Singh. "We're doing the same here."

Jessica Corbett ·


US Urged to End Drone Strikes After Pentagon Says Killing 10 Afghan Civilians Was 'Horrible Mistake'

"That was not a 'mistake,'" said journalist Anand Giridharadas. "War crimes are not oopsies."

Brett Wilkins ·


40+ NYC Activists Arrested for Protests Against Banks Fueling Climate Emergency

"We're sending a message loud and clear that the little action that politicians and greenwashing CEOs have taken so far does not begin to deal with the magnitude of this crisis."

Jessica Corbett ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.


Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo