Republicans think they’ve found the way to hit President Joe Biden back on Social Security and Medicare after their utter humiliation at his hands during the State of the Union address. They’re building up a new mythology that they are the ones who want to protect the programs, and Biden’s refusal to meet with them to discuss the future of the programs is the real danger. Of course it’s bullshit, and luckily there’s a simple rebuttal Democrats can use.
Here are some of the things Republicans have been saying, compiled by TPM, about how they are benignly just looking out for the future of the programs they’ve spent the bulk of the past century trying to end, and not intending to cut benefits to anyone or end the programs:
- “I know of no Republican or Democrat in the House or the Senate who is proposing cutting Social Security benefits. […] And it’s dishonest to keep saying it. It’s offensive and dishonest, and not realistic.” —Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT)
- “We’re going to have to adjust the age one more time like Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neil did.” —Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC)
- “I think [raising the retirement age is] something that has to be on the table.” —Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC)
- “Does it really make sense to allow someone who’s in their 20s today to retire at 62? Those are the kinds of things that we should talk about.” —Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA)
- “Of the 4.5 trillion in taxes [Biden] has proposed, not a dime is going to shore up Social Security. Now, this is incredibly worrisome from a president who should be sympathetic with someone, who under current law, is going to get a 24% cut.” —Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA)
That last quote is from the Senate Finance Committee’s hearing in which Cassidy inflamed temperatures by attacking Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, who said Biden is willing to work with Congress on the issue. “That’s a lie,” Cassidy snapped back. “Why doesn’t the president care?”
That brought a rebuke from Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), the committee’s chair, who told him he’d gone “over the line” and Cassidy backed down a little, saying he wasn’t calling Yellen a liar, but he kept pushing, adding that line about how “not one dime” of Biden’s tax increases would shore up Social Security.
Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) jumped in, asking rhetorically, “Aren’t you concerned about our inability to honor those promises?” Which is rich, coming from the guy who wants to change the whole structure of the program and make it subject to renewal by Congress every year.
Of course what the GOP has in mind is ending Social Security, and of course raising the retirement age—the “solution” they seem to be gravitating toward—is a cut to the program and a key step along the way to achieving that ultimate goal. It’s all about eroding the benefits people need in old age. That’s exactly what raising the retirement age would do: reduce benefits, particularly for the big chunk of people (about half of all retirees now) who choose to or are forced due to health or other reasons to retire early.
It only sounds like a reasonable thing to force people to do if you’re someone with a cushy day job you can do well into your 70s, and people who aren’t going to be relying on Social Security for the entirety of their livelihood in old age.
So let’s go back to Cassidy and his claim of “not one dime” of tax increases going to Social Security. There’s your fix, and it’s a painless one for just about everybody: raise the payroll tax cap so that rich people pay in. This really is a perfect political and practical solution for Democrats to be pushing. It’s fair. It saves Social Security. And the inevitable Republican opposition to it would prove yet again that their only real agenda is keep taxes low for the rich.
What Democrats really don’t need to do is give the GOP oxygen on the issue and help the GOP pretend like they’re really trying to “save” Social Security.