A previous version of this story mischaracterized John Thune’s comments on Social Security. It has been corrected.
President Biden on Thursday further amplified his promise to protect Social Security and Medicare, echoing charged remarks during his State of the Union speech earlier in the week.
“I will not cut a single Social Security or Medicare benefit,” Biden said, speaking at the University of Tampa in Florida on Thursday.
He called Social Security a “promise we made” and a “sacred trust, a rock-solid guarantee. Generations of Americans have counted on it, and it works.”
Biden said he wants to protect Medicare and Social Security, despite efforts by some congressional Republicans to cut these programs.
Taking his message to Florida, Biden brought the argument to the home turf of millions of retirees and more than one Republican politician seeking to build a national profile, such as Sen. Rick Scott, who last year proposed sunsetting all federal programs, which would include Social Security and Medicare, every five years, requiring their reauthorization by Congress — or not.
Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin has proposed sunsetting legislation annually, which would impact 63 million Medicare beneficiaries, 69 million Medicaid beneficiaries and 65 million Social Security beneficiaries.
“I guarantee it will not happen,” Biden said on Thursday. “I will veto it.”
In his State of the Union speech on Tuesday he had highlighted such Republican positions, conceding that this was a priority for some but not all members of that party. His broaching of the matter — to some, the “third rail” of U.S. domestic politics — before the joint session was met with boos from the GOP side of the House chamber, with at least one audience member shouting out, “Liar.”
A key reason that Social Security is too charged a topic for most politicians to risk touching is that it’s a crucial lifeline for many older Americans — and a program that most members of the workforce, by the time they’re eligible, will have paid into for decades.
“The very idea a senator from Florida wants to put Social Security, Medicare on the chopping block every five years, I find it to be somewhat outrageous, so outrageous that you might not even believe it, but it’s what he says,” Biden said, referring to an 11-point plan published by Scott in his role as head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
Of Republican denials that such a plan has any adherents in their party, Biden said, “Maybe [Scott has] changed his mind. Maybe he’s seen the Lord.”
Nearly nine out of 10 people aged 65 and older receive Social Security benefits. It represents about 30% of the income of older adults. Among the elderly beneficiaries, 37% of men and 42% of women receive 50% or more of their income from Social Security, according to the Social Security Administration.
The concern is that the trust funds that support the program are projected to run out of money in less than 15 years, and, if that happens, retirees and those receiving disability benefits could expect to see a reduction in what they’re owed.
There have been other suggestions, as well, such as changing Social Security and Medicare from “mandatory” spending programs to “discretionary” ones. Other proposals include raising the full retirement age for Social Security from 67 to 70.
Mike Lee of Utah, during his first, successful run for the U.S. Senate in 2010, said: “It will be my objective to phase out Social Security. To pull it up by the roots and get rid of it.”
He went on to propose the same for Medicare and Medicaid.
John Thune of South Dakota, No. 2 in Senate Republican leadership, told CBS This Morning that if something isn’t done, Social Security isn’t going to be around for younger generations.
As part of Biden’s defense of the program, the president observed that Social Security has reduced poverty among U.S. senior citizens. “The number of seniors living in poverty has plummeted since Social Security was created. Now these guys want to cut it,” the president said in Tampa. “I don’t get it — I really don’t. I don’t know who they think they are.”