Republicans are trying to flip the script on Social Security as they press President Biden.
For several months now, Democrats have lambasted Social Security, repeatedly and publicly accusing Republicans of wanting to cut the entitlement program. But now some in the GOP are striking back, trying to push Biden to account for the threat of default facing the program.
The dynamic played out this week in two hearings where Republicans criticized White House officials and took issue with the president’s 2024 budget proposal released last week that lacked a plan to strengthen Social Security.
Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) was among other Republicans to bring up the issue in the impeachment inquiry against Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen at a Finance Committee hearing Thursday.
“Not one penny of the $4.5 trillion in taxes that he’s proposing is going to support Social Security,” Cassidy said, before moments later asking “why the president doesn’t care” about threats to the program’s funding.
The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated last month that the program’s fund is at risk of running out of funds in 2032.
Yellen responded that Biden “cares very deeply,” before Cassidy interjected to ask about the president’s plan to expand Social Security solvency.
Yellen said Biden “is willing” to work with Congress on the issue, but Cassidy called the statement “a lie.”
“Since a bipartisan group of senators have repeatedly requested a meeting with him from Social Security so that someone who is a current beneficiary would not see his benefits cut by 24 percent, we have heard nothing of our request,” he said.
“And we’ve made several requests to meet with the president,” Cassidy added.
The Hill has reached out to the White House for comment.
Cassidy has led bipartisan discussions with Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) to explore possible fixes to increase funding for the program.
The issue was also hotly debated at a Senate Budget Committee hearing on Wednesday, when Senator Mitt Romney (R-Utah) pressed White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director Shalanda Young about Biden’s plans for the program. and his accusations against Republicans.
“I don’t know of a single Republican or Democrat in the House or Senate that would propose cutting Social Security benefits, and it’s disingenuous to say that,” he told Young. “It’s offensive and dishonest and not realistic.”
“This president believes that the greatest threat to Social Security is those who want to cut it,” Young said moments later. “His budget says no.”
Romney called the response “extremely insulting” while doubling down on his claim that “no one on the Republican side is proposing to cut Social Security benefits for our Social Security recipients.”
The switch is among the latest signs of frustration among Republicans as the party has tried to quell concerns that they plan to cut Social Security despite attacks from the other side.
“We’re never going to get those programs reformed and saved without the leadership of the president,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) told The Hill this week, saying Biden “does nothing.”
Democrats have brushed off the criticism, saying the president’s resume speaks for itself.
“One way to look at it is through the budget, but I think the president has a long record of outlining the steps he would take to strengthen Social Security,” Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) told The Hill on Wednesday.
“Unfortunately, the conversation here has been Republicans who want to make changes or privatize or private accounts, there are so many different ideas,” he argued. “So he spent a lot of time opposing it, but I think on our side there’s been an effort to strengthen it.”
The President’s budget request included investments to improve services for recipients. And while he didn’t propose a plan for Social Security’s solvency, the request offered a way to prop up Medicare, as some estimate the program’s hospital insurance fund will reach insolvency in about five years. The budget calls for a higher tax rate on earned and earned income above $400,000, which the White House says will protect the fund for at least 25 years.
Democrats immediately gained support, although Republicans opposed the proposed tax increase. Others say they were also surprised by the plan’s inclusion of Medicare over Social Security, though it’s not the first time that austerity plans for either program have been left out of the president’s budget requests.
Sen. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.) on Wednesday called Biden’s move surprising, while arguing that Social Security changes are probably “easier” to tackle than Medicare reforms, though “politically more difficult.”
Rubio said otherwise on Wednesday, arguing instead that “nobody wants to touch” the program because changes to judicial programs have long been seen as a tough call on Capitol Hill.
“To be fair, Republican presidents haven’t either, because it’s the third rail politically. But the math is what it is in those programs,” he said, adding, “Ultimately, we have to face it.”
Democrats began attacking Republicans over Social Security months ago, after some GOP members indicated they would tie potential entitlement reforms to a deal to avoid a federal default late last year.
The Republican Study Committee, the largest conservative caucus in the House, has also received attention for proposals to tighten the eligibility age for Social Security and Medicare. Many Democrats see this idea as a non-starter.
And while the conservative flanks of the conference have been interested in changing the Social Security age limit in recent months, the GOP leadership has vowed to reform Social Security or Medicare in debt ceiling negotiations.
But that hasn’t stopped Democrats from sounding the alarm as House Republicans push for plans to balance the federal budget in 10 years — an ambitious goal Democrats say would be extremely difficult without steep cuts to spending, including Social Security.
But despite mistrust from some Democrats, several senators across the party have expressed willingness to explore bipartisan solutions to help raise funds for Social Security and Medicare in recent weeks.
Sen. Joe Manchin (DW.Va.), who has been one of the most vocal Democrats calling for bipartisan funding fixes for the justice program, said Wednesday he wants Congress to “take care of both.”
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