Social Security Cuts: Republicans In-Fight as Democrats Double Down on Stance — Is the Program Safe?

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Amid increasing urgency about the consequences of the debt ceiling not being raised — the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) warned on Feb. 15 that the U.S. won’t be able to pay its bills sometime between July and September — the fate of programs such as Social Security and Medicare remains unclear.

Democrats are doubling down on their stance and are trying to use the internal feud to their advantage, while Republicans continue their in-fighting, with Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) adding fuel to the fire in a Feb. 17 op-ed urging Democrats not to claim they intend to cut the programs. 

The debt limit was raised to approximately $31.381 trillion on Dec. 16, 2021. Now a Republican-led Congress following the midterm elections is now looking for spending cuts in exchange for support in raising the debt ceiling, something most Democrats argue against.

Following President Joe Biden’s State of the Union speech, in which he reminded Congress that Republicans have lifted the debt ceiling several times under previous administrations, “without preconditions or crisis,” and said that Republicans wanted to cut Social Security and Medicare, several of his opponents called him up on it.

“With respect to the debt ceiling, NO REPUBLICAN has said we are going to cut Social Security and Medicare. The President has tried to conflate the two, to make a political argument. He is WRONG!,” Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.) tweeted Feb. 8.

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And Speaker Kevin McCarthy retweeted a House GOP tweet, which read: “Now that we’ve resolved that Medicare and Social Security are off the table (as @SpeakerMcCarthy and Republicans have repeatedly said), let’s act responsibly by reducing the hundreds of billions in wasteful Washington spending and stave off a future debt crisis.”

Biden and several Democrats are pointing to Scott’s “11 Point Plan to Rescue America” program released last year, in which he calls for sunsetting every federal program, including Social Security and Medicare, every five years.

In turn, this has led to internal feuding among Republicans, many of whom have also been turning against Scott.

Addressing Scott’s position, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), for example, said earlier in February that “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,” according to The New York Times.

However, after coming under bipartisan fire and in another twist, Scott said in a Feb. 17 Washington Examiner op-ed, which will likely bring more Republican in-fighting.

“Note to President Biden, Sen. Schumer and Sen. McConnell — As you know, this was never intended to apply to Social Security, Medicare, or the U.S. Navy,” he wrote.

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He added that his Rescue America plan was obviously not intended to include entitlement programs such as Medicare and Social Security funds.

“I have never supported cutting Social Security or Medicare, ever. To say otherwise is a disingenuous Democrat lie from a very confused president. And Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is also well aware of that. It’s shallow gotcha politics, which is what Washington does,” Scott wrote. 

Finally, other Republicans said they were working on a budget plan, but which spending cuts this might include remains unclear.

Rep. James Comer, (R-Ky.), said on ABC “This Week” on Feb. 12 that Republicans are still debating the plan. “We’re having robust debate amongst our conference. And that’s what democracy is supposed to be about,” according to ABC.

Democrats meanwhile, seem to coalesce around one position: raise the debt ceiling with no conditions.

Also speaking on ABC’s “This Week” on Feb. 12, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) reiterated that the party has “a clear position” and wants to “do it clean.”

“Do it without brinksmanship. Do it without this risk of hostage-taking where things could blow up because as you know, if we don’t renew the debt ceiling, average American families will be clobbered,” he said, according to a transcript of his remarks. “Their interest rates would go up. Their pension savings would go down. The cost of a house would go up to $100,000. So, it’s risky.”

And on Feb. 16, he tweeted: “The House GOP is putting pen to paper on proposals that would slash programs millions of low-income Americans rely on. Are Republicans going to target Medicaid? Are they going to strip away health care for 1 in 4 Americans? House Republicans: Show us your plan.”

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As for voters, interestingly, a new Morning Consult/Politico survey finds that 46% of registered voters think the party will try to cut funding for the programs, though just 8% believe such an attempt would be successful and 38% think it would fail.

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