President Biden spent much of last week lambasting Republicans for proposals by some in the GOP that he said would threaten Social Security and Medicare. Republicans gave fresh life to those attacks by protesting Biden’s comments loudly and indignantly at Biden’s State of the Union speech and in the days after, as the president returned to the subject during events in Wisconsin and Florida. Those states are home to two GOP senators who have proposed reforms that could affect the entitlement programs — and they also just happen to be important battlegrounds for the 2024 election.
Get ready to hear a lot more about Social Security and Medicare.
NBC News’s Sahil Kapur reports: “Biden's State of the Union and subsequent trips are viewed as a soft launch for his widely expected re-election bid, in which he intends to paint the GOP as a threat to Social Security and Medicare — the crown jewels of the Democratic-led New Deal and Great Society — seizing on decades of attempts to restructure, privatize or reduce long-term spending on the popular safety net programs.”
Scott Mulhauser, a former top Biden aide who has worked on campaigns, explained to NBC why the president is likely to keep hammering the issue: “It’s a smart play for the near term in the debt limit fight, and it’s even a smarter play when we head to the 2024 re-elect,” he said. “It moves voters, it moves seniors, it moves allegiances and alliances, and it resonates.”
The political fight — and the apparent consensus among Democrats and Republicans that Social Security and Medicare aren’t to be touched in any deal to raise the debt limit — means that reforms to address the long-term finances of the programs will have to wait, even as budget hawks warn that delays could make future changes more painful. And a grand deficit-reduction deal of the sort the Obama administration was willing to discuss years ago — one in which benefits would get cut as part of the compromise — may no longer be on the table.
Recent comments from the White House show that the Biden administration is far more resistant to such cuts. “A wide range of Republican lawmakers have endorsed severe cuts to Medicare and Social Security benefits in the name of ‘fiscal responsibility,’” White House spokesman Andrew Bates told NBC News. “Complaining that the President is accurately shining a light on plans they don’t want their constituents to know about is very much not the defense they think.”
In contrast with those Obama-era talks, Democrats are now more focused on raising revenues to preserve or expand benefits. To wit: Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) along with a host of other lawmakers have again introduced legislation that would expand Social Security benefits by $2,400 a year and extend the program’s solvency through 2096 by applying the payroll tax to earnings over $250,000 and raising the net investment income tax applied to investment and business income.