February 16, 2023
Republicans have lambasted President Biden for claiming during his State of the Union speech that some in the GOP want to cut federal funding for Social Security and Medicare benefits. Despite the bluster, Democrats stand by their assertion that a number of Republicans have indeed proposed such cuts. Here's everything you need to know: What did Biden claim during his speech? The president said that at least some Republicans "want Social Security and Medicare to sunset." This was met by a chorus of boos from Republicans in the room. Georgia GOP Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, a prominent opponent of Biden, yelled out to the president that he was a "liar." Biden took the moment to flip the script on the GOP, saying: "As we all apparently agree, Social Security and Medicare are off the books now, right? It's not to be touched?" This prompted a bipartisan round of applause from the gathered Congress. After the speech, House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.) told NBC News that the president was "falsely saying that there are people that want to get rid of Social Security and Medicare," claiming that "it's been inaccurate for a long time" and that "there's no truth to it." So who is being truthful? Some Republicans have proposed eliminating Social Security and Medicare. While NBC noted that "there is no bill with GOP consensus to change those programs," Republicans have put forth "various proposals to rein them in over time." The most prominent of these proposals was made by Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.). Scott, who helmed the GOP's Senate campaign arm during the midterm elections, released a plan in 2022 in which he writes that "all federal legislation sunsets in five years. If a law is worth keeping, Congress can pass it again." In a statement after Biden's speech, Scott claimed that Social Security and Medicare were not part of his plan. However, his proposal says that all federal legislation would cease to be effective within five years. Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) was seen during the State of the Union shaking his head at Biden's insinuations. Following the speech, Lee said on a podcast that Biden had "mischaracterized what half the people in the chamber believe." However, Joe Scarborough noted on MSNBC's Morning Joe that Lee had previously proposed the idea of cutting both programs. "You have Mike Lee, first of all, acting shocked ... who's ever proposed sunsetting Social Security and Medicare? First of all, Mike Lee did," Scarborough said, adding that Lee "doesn't even want to sunset it, [he] wants to destroy it." Morning Joe played a clip of Lee from 2010 in which he is heard saying that it was "his objective to phase out Social Security." Lee says that he wants to "pull it out by its roots and eliminate it," adding, "Medicare and Medicaid are of the same sort, they need to be pulled up." Not everyone in the GOP is on board with cutting the programs. TIME noted that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has "repeatedly denounced Scott's proposal, which wasn't promoted by any other major candidates." Still, the party seems poised to, at the very least, change the way Social Security and Medicare eligibility works. The Republican Study Committee, described by The Washington Post as an "influential House group that drafts GOP policy proposals," unveiled a budget blueprint in 2022. In this blueprint, the age of Medicare eligibility would be raised from 65 to 67, while Social Security eligibility would be raised from 65 to 69. The White House has released a fact sheet listing a number of Republicans who have proposed budget cuts to these programs, including Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.) and Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.). What's next? Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has said that the idea of cutting Social Security and Medicare is "off the table." His comments came as both Democrats and Republicans work to try and pass a fiscal package to raise the debt ceiling and avoid defaulting on the nation's debts. However, "with only a [Republican] four-seat majority, getting a deal on the debt ceiling will be made all the more difficult," NPR noted, adding that "Republicans also largely refuse to look at cuts to defense spending. And balancing the budget — and tackling a ballooning federal debt — can't be done by cutting discretionary spending alone." This means that the GOP would likely look elsewhere for ways to slash the budget, and many Democrats aren't buying the Republican promise that Medicare and Social Security are off limits. "The idea that we suddenly forced a conversion of Republicans on the question of protecting Social Security and Medicare, I don't think that's actually what occurred," Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) told MSNBC, adding that he had "watched Republicans for a decade trip over themselves to propose new ways to cut Social Security and Medicare."