President Joe Biden has spent much of this week blasting a proposal from Republican Sen. Rick Scott of Florida to have all federal programs, including Social Security and Medicare, sunset in five years, a change that would require Congress to reauthorize any programs it wants to keep. On Thursday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) piled on with his own criticism of the Scott plan, which he had rejected early last year.
Asked in an interview with Kentucky radio host Terry Meiners if Biden’s claims about the Scott plan are true, McConnell again distanced himself and his party from the proposal: “Unfortunately, that was the Scott plan. That’s not a Republican plan. That was the Rick Scott plan,” McConnell said. “The Republican plan, as I pointed out last fall, if we were to become the majority, there were no plans to raise taxes on half the American people or to sunset Medicare or Social Security. So it’s clearly the Rick Scott plan. It is not the Republican plan. And that’s the view of the speaker of the House as well.”
McConnell’s mention of raising taxes was a reference to another portion of Scott’s plan, which initially called for all Americans to pay some federal income tax to have “skin in the game.” Scott later walked back that proposal.
McConnell has feuded with Scott for months, and the two clashed over midterm election strategy last year as Scott was leading Senate Republicans’ campaign arm. Scott then challenged McConnell for Senate GOP leadership, but failed to unseat the longtime GOP leader.
McConnell on Thursday said his criticism of the Scott plan was not about those differences, but he emphasized that the Florida senator did not speak for all Republicans.
“Speaker McCarthy said Social Security and Medicare are not to be touched, and I’ve said the same, and I think we’re in a more authoritative position to state what the position of the party is than any single senator,” McConnell said, adding of the Scott plan: “It’s just a bad idea. I think it will be a challenge for him to deal with this in his own re-election in Florida, a state with more elderly people than any other state in America.”
Scott proposes a new plan: Scott on Friday kept up his barrage of attacks on Biden and announced a bill that he said would preserve Social Security and Medicare. The bill, he said, would rescind funding for the IRS included in last year’s Inflation Reduction Act and redirect the money to Medicare and Social Security. Democrats’ Inflation Reduction Act last year provided $80 billion over 10 years for the tax agency to ramp up enforcement, improve its services and upgrade its technology. The Congressional Budget Office projected earlier this month that a previous GOP bill to repeal $72 billion of that funding would raise deficits by $114 billion over a decade.
Scott said his plan would also require any Medicare savings from new legislation to be used for the program “and are prohibited from being used to fund woke projects.” And, he said, the bill would require a two-thirds majority of Congress to approve any cuts to Medicare or Social Security, “making it much more difficult for Congress to make cuts or reduce benefits.”
Johnson again calls Social Security a ‘Ponzi scheme’: If Scott doesn’t speak for all Republicans on Social Security and Medicare, McConnell may not either. Former president Donald Trump last month warned Republicans to avoid cuts to Medicare and Social Security, and party leaders in Congress have clearly decided to steer clear of such politically unpopular proposals, but the GOP still has some high-profile differences on programs.
Case in point: Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) on Thursday reiterated his plan to have Social Security and Medicare shifted from mandatory to discretionary spending, meaning that Congress would have to approve them every year. In doing so, he again called Social Security a “legal Ponzi scheme.”
"We've got to put everything on-budget so we're forced to prioritize spending," Johnson said in an interview with Milwaukee’s WISN-AM Thursday morning. "That doesn't mean putting on the chopping block. That doesn't mean cutting Social Security. But it does mean prioritizing."
The bottom line: Republicans are still scrambling to escape from the trap President Biden sprung on them on Social Security and Medicare funding. Expect Democrats to continue to press what they see as their political advantage on the issue.