As lawmakers near an impending debt ceiling deadline, the battle over what to do with entitlement programs like Medicare and Social Security continues to be fought across party lines.
Republicans have demanded commitments from Democrats to cut spending in exchange for raising the debt ceiling, but said entitlement programs aren’t on the chopping block.
President Biden and the Democrats have still tried to frame the GOP’s desire for spending cuts as an attack on Medicare and Social Security. At current rates, Medicare funding is expected to hit a deficit in 2028, with Social Security following in 2032.
Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid currently make up nearly half of the entire federal budget, at a total annual cost of $2.7 trillion.
Here is the Capitol debate on the future of the programs.
A scattered Republican embassy
A number of policy options have been proposed by GOP lawmakers in both the House and Senate for what to do with the future of entitlement programs. Options ranged from not touching the programs, to raising age requirements, to having the programs shut down on a regular basis, which would require renewed approval from Congress.
Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) caused a stir last year when he released his 12-point Rescue America plan, which originally proposed scrapping all federal legislation after five years and prompting Congress to consider whether the Law “worth observing”.
But after intense heat from Democrats and some in his own partyScott changed his plan “to make specific exceptions to Social Security, Medicare, national security, veterans’ benefits, and other essential services.”
Other policy options put forward by Republicans include a plan by the Republican Study Committee, which includes more than 75 percent of the House GOP conference, to raise the age for individuals to qualify for Social Security and Medicare.
Other prominent Republicans, including former Vice President Pence, have advocated partial privatization of Social Security. “I think we can replace the New Deal programs with a better deal,” he said in an interview earlier this year.
But the party’s leadership in Congress has revealed relatively little about their plans for the future of Social Security and Medicare.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) have both said the entitlement programs are off the table in the debt ceiling negotiations, but they have avoided details about how they will want to achieve their desired spending cuts.
Democrats position themselves as protectors
Biden has led the charge in Democrats’ efforts to portray themselves as protectors of the entitlement programs in the face of what they characterize as GOP threats.
Democrats and the White House leaned against the frame as strategy ahead of the midterms and warns of what a Republican majority could mean for the 65 million Americans who depend on Social Security and Medicare benefits.
Republicans have insisted their proposals to keep the programs solvent aren’t cuts, but that’s largely what the debate boils down to what makes a cut.
Democrats have claimed they don’t want to touch Social Security or Medicare at all, and Biden has suggested taxing the wealthy to prop up the programs — something that has little chance of gaining traction among Republicans.
The president’s budget proposal aims to increase the Medicare tax rate on earned and unearned income over $400,000 from the current 3.8 percent to 5 percent.
“This modest increase in Medicare contributions for those with the highest incomes will help keep the Medicare program strong for decades to come,” he wrote in a New York Times Commentary.
Biden’s budget proposal doesn’t detail plans to keep Social Security afloat.
Biden leaning towards messaging before 2024
In his State of the Union address last month, Biden drew heckles from Republican lawmakers when he accused some in the GOP of trying to target federal entitlement programs as part of spending cuts.
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) shouted “liar” at the President’s remarks.
Playing off the dissent, he joked, “Well folks, it seems we can all agree, Social Security and Medicare are off the books now, right?”
The White House has targeted Scott with his harshest criticism and called the Florida Senator national flagship for Republican attacks on Medicare and Social Security benefits.
Scott hit back after Biden’s SOTU speech, urging the president to resign over “lying about Republicans” trying to cut programs.
The attacks on Republicans over the programs have emerged as part of a broader narrative strategy the GOP as extreme while Biden prepares for a possible re-election run in 2024.
The latest polls have confirmed this again The popularity of Social Security and Medicare, even as many Americans tend to rein in overall government spending.
Biden has also attempted to highlight the House Freedom Caucus, the conservative group that includes Greene and Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), to create greater contrast between the parties in their overall vision for the country ahead of 2024.
The White House approved the caucus’ budget proposal “Five Alarm Fire”, and Biden has argued that the plan would cut non-defense spending across the board by 25 percent, though the group has disputed that claim.
Republicans are trying to reverse the script
While the GOP has fended off attacks from Democrats, Republicans have tried to do the same Turn the debate around on their opposition and accused the Democrats of not having their own vision to keep the programs afloat.
Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) grilled Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen earlier this month over the government’s plan to support Social Security.
“Of the $4.5 trillion in taxes he’s proposed, not a dime will support Social Security,” Cassidy said at a Senate hearing.
Yellen responded that Biden “cares very, very much,” before Cassidy interjected to ask about the president’s plan to extend Social Security solvency.
Yellen said Biden was “ready” to work with Congress on the matter, but Cassidy called the statement a “lie,” adding that he and other senators had tried unsuccessfully to meet with the president on the matter.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) told The Hill earlier this month that Congress needed “the president’s leadership” to secure the programs long-term and said Biden was “doing nothing.”
Biden has fired back that GOP proposals would only undermine programs.
“Only in Washington can people say they’re saving something by destroying it,” he wrote in his Times op-ed.
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