- President Joe Biden was booed on Tuesday when he said some in the GOP wanted to cut entitlements.
- But there are several examples of lawmakers supporting cuts or sunsetting of programs.
- Speaker Kevin McCarthy has said cuts to Social Security and Medicare are off the table.
President Joe Biden’s comments about popular entitlement programs sparked a dramatic exchange between him and House Republicans on Tuesday during the State of the Union address, an event that is typically known for being, well, boring.
The extraordinary exchange began after the president said, “Instead of making the wealthy pay their fair share, some Republicans want Medicare and Social Security to sunset,” immediately prompting loud boos from the audience.
“I’m not saying it’s the majority,” Biden continued. “Anybody who doubts it, contact my office — I’ll give you a copy of the proposal.”
Amid the loud boos, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia could be seen shouting “liar” while Sen. Mike Lee of Utah’s expression appeared incredulous.
Biden went on to say he didn’t think it was a “significant” number of Republicans proposing such cuts, but that “it’s being proposed by individuals. I’m politely not naming them but it’s being proposed by some of you.”
Biden appeared to be referring to Sen. Rick Scott, of Florida, among others. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy has insisted that cuts to Medicare and Social Security are off the table.
But there are several examples of Republicans suggesting cutting or weakening Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.
—MeidasTouch (@MeidasTouch) February 8, 2023
Sen. Rick Scott of Florida
In 2022, Scott proposed a “Rescue America” plan that would include sunsetting all federal legislation, including Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, after five years.
“If a law is worth keeping, Congress can pass it again,” Scott’s plan says.
Biden appeared to be directly referencing Scott’s plan, as his prepared remarks that were released by the White House included that timeframe: “Some Republicans want Medicare and Social Security to sunset every five years. That means if Congress doesn’t vote to keep them, those programs will go away.”
In response on Wednesday, Scott doubled down on his plan in a tweet, noting his assertion that if legislation is worth keeping it could be passed again every five years.
He also clapped back, releasing a list of occurrences in the 1980s and 1990s in which Biden proposed a temporary freeze on federal spending, including entitlement programs. He also noted a bill Biden introduced in 1975 that involved sunsetting federal legislation every four years.
When reached by Insider about Biden’s past comments, a White House spokesperson noted a video the president’s campaign put out in 2020 in response to similar accusations. “Joe Biden has repeatedly voted to save Social Security; he and President Obama beat back Republican attempts to privatize it,” the video says, adding: “Biden’s plan protects Social Security, and will increase benefits.”
The spokesperson also noted that while Scott said he does not want to cut Social Security and Medicare, he has not specified how the programs would be protected under her his plan to sunset legislation.
Sen. Mike Lee of Utah
Lee, who appeared distraught over Biden’s claim that some Republicans wanted to cut entitlements, has previously denied ever supporting such an idea. But the White House and others on Wednesday resurfaced an old clip of Lee appearing to advocate for cuts.
“It will be my objective to phase out Social Security — to pull it up by the roots and get rid of it,” Lee could be heard saying in a clip taken during his first campaign in 2010, adding that political advisors have told him it was a “dangerous” thing to advocated for.
“That’s why I’m doing this. To get rid of that,” Lee continued. “Medicare and Medicaid are of the same sort.”
Lee responded to the clip on Twitter Wednesday, saying Biden “mischaracterized what half the Senate body believes” and sharing a video that includes additional comments from the 2010 clip.
In the clip Lee shared, he can be heard saying he wanted to protect current beneficiaries of entitlements, adding retirees’ benefits should remain “untouched” and “unchanged.” He added that people who were expected to retire in the coming years should also be “held harmless.”
Lee added in a separate statement on Twitter that in his 12 years in the Senate he has never proposed cutting Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid.
Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin
Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin has proposed changing Social Security from mandatory spending, where Congress can’t change it, and it essentially operates on autopilot, to discretionary spending, which would subject the program to annual congressional spending bills where lawmakers could make changes to it.
After criticism from former President Barack Obama, Johnson said Obama “lied” about him and that he “never” said he wanted to cut Social Securit and that he “never would.”
“I want to save Social Security,” Johnson said, according to local WKOW. “We have to start prioritizing spending. We can’t keep wasting money. It’s the top priority.”
Republican Study Committee
The Republican Study Committee, made up of House conservatives, issued a detailed plan in 2022, called the “Blueprint to Save America,” that would raise the retirement age to receive benefits under Social Security and Medicare. It also involved decreasing Social Security benefits over time and for higher-earning retirees, as well as increasing Medicare premiums for some.