By SEUNG MIN KIM, JOSH BOAK and STEVE PEOPLES, ASSOCIATED PRESS, Feb 10, 2023.
TAMPA — With an eye toward the 2024 campaign, President Joe Biden took direct aim at Republicans who have floated cuts to Social Security and Medicare — telling an audience in Florida on Thursday that he would create a “nightmare” for anyone who dreamed of trying them.
Venturing into a state defined by its growing retiree population and status as the unofficial headquarters of the modern- day Republican Party, the president sees a chance to use Social Security and Medicare to drive a wedge between GOP lawmakers and their base of older voters who rely on these government programs for income and health insurance.
Biden is trying to lay the groundwork for an expected reelection campaign announcement this spring. Florida is also home to some of his potential biggest Republican rivals during next year’s race.
White House aides have been using the votes and words of Republican lawmakers to make their case that Social Security and Medicare benefits are under threat, while GOP leaders say their statements are being mischaracterized.
Even as Biden said his focus is on getting things done, his speech in Tampa — and remarks the day before in Wisconsin — showed how he’s trying to rally the public to his side now that Republicans control the House.
At the lectern Thursday, Biden held up a pamphlet about Florida Sen. Rick Scott in which the Republican said he wants to require that the programs be reauthorized every five years.
“I know that a lot of Republicans — their dream is to cut Social Security and Medicare,” Biden said. “If that’s your dream, I’m your nightmare.”
Leading Republican lawmakers insist that spending cuts to Social Security and Medicare are off the table with regard to reaching a deal to increase the government’s legal borrowing authority. But enough prominent Republicans have broached the subject that Biden told his audience Thursday that, “I’ll believe it when I see it.”
“I will not cut a single Social Security or Medicare benefit,” the president continued. “In fact, I’m going to extend the Medicare trust fund for at least two decades.”
During Tuesday’s State of the Union address, GOP lawmakers jeered when Biden referred to Scott’s proposal. The president seized on the impromptu moment, urging Republicans and Democrats alike to pledge to avoid cuts to the income and health insurance programs.
To drive home their argument, White House aides distributed handouts in Tampa before the speech summarizing Scott’s plan, highlighting the phrase where the senator wrote: “All federal legislation sunsets in 5 years. If a law is worth keeping, Congress can pass it again.”
It’s a delicate moment for Social Security and Medicare, programs that economists say will drive the national debt to unprecedented highs over the next few decades. The Social Security trust fund will be unable to pay full benefits starting in 2035, prompting some Republican lawmakers to say changes will have to be made to sustain payments.
Image Credits: Kenny Holston for The New York Times