White House warns about GOP plan to put Social Security, Medicare on 'chopping block'

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Proposals from Sens. Rick Scott and Ron Johnson would require Congress to repeatedly authorize funding for Social Security and Medicare.

President Joe Biden on Tuesday warned about Republican proposals that would put programs such as Social Security and Medicare at risk of being cut.

During a White House event highlighting ways in which the recently passed Inflation Reduction Act has helped to reduce prescription drug costs for Medicare recipients, Biden said: "Folks, you know, the senator in charge of reelecting the United States senators — Sen. Scott — has proposed the plan where Social Security, Medicare, every five years on the chopping block. It means every five years, you either cut it, reduces, or completely eliminate it — Social Security and Medicare."

As Biden spoke, he held up a copy of the "Rescue America" plan, released in February by Sen. Rick Scott of Florida, chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

Scott's proposal calls for all federal legislation to be subject to reauthorization every five years. This would put Social Security and Medicare, and even federal agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency — an agency Republicans have sought to undermine — at risk of ending every five years instead of continuing in perpetuity. The Scott plan would also increase taxes for millions of poor families.

Biden also criticized recent remarks made by Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), noting, "He wants to put Social Security and Medicare on the chopping block every single year in every budget. If Congress doesn't vote to keep it, goodbye. Now, it's not just Social Security and Medicare he wants to deal with. He wants to put veterans' benefits and everything else [in] the federal budget at risk."

In August, Johnson said Social Security and Medicare should be funded annually through discretionary spending, a plan even more extreme than Scott's.

"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," Johnson told radio station WTAQ.

Scott was asked about Johnson's statement during an Aug. 5 appearance on CNN. Repeating debunked false claims about the financial health of Social Security and Medicare, Scott told Wolf Blitzer:

I think people around the country are surprised that everything in the budget we don't look at every year. Because right now we know Medicare is going bankrupt in four years, and up here there's no conversation about how do we make sure people get their Medicare benefits. They know Social Security goes bankrupt in twelve years, and up here there's no conversation about how do we make sure people get their Social Security benefits. So from my standpoint, I think we ought to be talking about these issues and make sure that these are so important programs that we talk about it every year and we make sure people get their Medicare benefits and their Social Security benefits.

In the same interview, Scott contrasted Social Security and Medicare funding with the defense budget, noting, "That's how we do our defense budget. We look at it every year. We don't say, Oh, we're going to have the exact same program the exact same way, but we know we want to have a lethal military that can defend the freedom of this country. "

An annual authorization of entitlement programs opens the door to the possibility that without congressional agreement, Social Security and Medicare could go unfunded.

Currently, over 69 million people receive Social Security benefits and more than 63 million are on Medicare. All of those people would lose their benefits in the worst-case scenario, while under the current system their benefits are unaffected.

Congress has repeatedly failed to agree on spending during annual negotiations. Disagreements led to shutdowns of the federal government in 1995, 2013, 2018 and 2019.

Under the proposals from Scott and Johnson, the disruptions of government services that occurred as a result of those shutdowns would be extended to the safety net that millions rely on.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.