Yes, Republicans have threatened Social Security. And they're still doing it

St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial board (TNS)

It seems the hecklers at last week’s State of the Union speech owe President Joe Biden an apology. After some congressional Republicans tried to shout him down for saying some in the GOP want to cut Social Security and Medicare, Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., stepped up to add his voice to the chorus alleging that Biden was lying — then promptly reiterated his call for a universal “sunset” on all federal programs every five years, which would apply to Social Security and Medicare. Oops.

And it’s not just Scott. Few other Republicans say it so bluntly, but the whole point of the current debt ceiling fight in the House is to force meaningful cuts in government spending, which cannot mathematically happen if Social Security or Medicare (or the equally untouchable Defense budget) aren’t on the table. Then there’s the party’s long history of more explicit calls for cuts.

Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., listen during a news conference after a policy luncheon with Senate Republicans at the U.S. Capitol Building on Sept. 7, 2022, in Washington, D.C. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images/TNS)

Biden, in his speech, triggered Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene and other extremists by alleging that “some Republicans want Medicare and Social Security to sunset.”

“It is being proposed by individuals,” Biden added, as Greene and others heckled like bleacher bums at a ballgame. “I’m politely not naming them, but it’s being proposed by some of you.”

The GOP histrionics notwithstanding, the fact is, various Republicans have long floated various ideas to trim the costs of the programs — privatization, means testing and/or raising the retirement age — which, whatever some of the merits, absolutely translate into benefit cuts. Any claim that those efforts are all about fiscal responsibility must be considered in the context of the almost $2 trillion the GOP added to the deficit with its 2017 tax cuts for the rich.

Scott’s plan, first proposed last year, would “sunset” (his word, before Biden borrowed it) all federal legislation every five years. “If a law is worth keeping,” Scott reiterated last week, “Congress can pass it again.”

Scott has argued that, even though his plan doesn’t make exceptions for Social Security and Medicare, Congress realistically would never let those programs lapse.

We have our doubts, particularly because some of his Republican colleagues are, once again, threatening a debt ceiling fight that could tank America’s full faith and credit and risk global economic meltdown. If they engage in this kind of hostage-taking with that issue, just imagine what they might do if they’re allowed to take prized hostages like Social Security and Medicare every five years.

None of this is to say there doesn’t have to be some serious discussion about how to keep these two programs solvent in the decades to come. But the fact that the Republican approach always seems to come down to cutting benefits, rather than making the wealthy pay their fair share, is fair game for Biden and Democrats — no matter how much heckling the Marjorie Taylor Greenes of the world do.

— From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial board (TNS).