During Tuesday’s State of the Union, President Biden coaxed Republicans to agree to take Social Security and Medicare cuts “off the table” in the debt ceiling standoff. It was an impressive piece of real-time negotiation on the president’s part – on live tv no less! But does that mean seniors’ earned benefits are suddenly safe from GOP assault? The short answer is: not by a long shot.
As our legislative director, Dan Adcock, told the Washington Examiner, “I think the way the president played it was masterful in getting Republicans to make that commitment, but it was not like it was signed in blood, either.”
Adcock says that seniors’ advocates are not going to let their guard down simply because Republicans applauded during a speech for not cutting Social Security and Medicare. For one thing, the moment of apparent consensus came right after MAGA members, led by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), accused President Biden of ‘lying’ when he said that “some Republicans” want to sunset both programs after five years. He was referring to a plan from Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL) that would do exactly that.
Therein lies the problem. Republicans’ definition of what constitutes “cutting” Social Security and Medicare is somewhat squirrelly. Senator Scott’s plan is only the most glaring example. Obviously, any proposal that subjects Social Security and Medicare to an up or down vote every five years could potentially cut – if not END – both programs. Scott spent the rest of the week after the State of the Union defending his plan and, for good measure, repeating his false claim that the Inflation Reduction Act cut Medicare (when, in fact, it saved Medicare billions of dollars.)
If Scott’s proposal were the only one, advocates may not be as worried. But there are other GOP plans that would jeopardize seniors’ earned benefits. Many of those have come to the fore during the debt ceiling standoff.
The House Republican Study Committee’s 2022 budget blueprint – endorsed by more than 180 GOP members of Congress – contained outright benefit cuts. It would raise the Social Security full retirement age to 70, slashing lifetime benefits for some seniors by more than 20%. The GOP blueprint also would reduce annual cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) and means-test benefits. All of those are cuts, plain and simple.
As Arthur Delaney of the Huffington Post pointed out this week, Republicans seem to have a very different definition of the word “cut.”
When Republicans say they oppose benefit cuts, there’s an important caveat – they’re often referring to cuts that wouldn’t affect current retirees or people near retirement, such as Americans older than age 54. – Huffington Post, 2/8/23
First of all, any reduction in COLAs (which multiple Republican proposals include) would impact current beneficiaries immediately. Secondly, slashing benefits for future retirees is a cut – even if it doesn’t affect today’s seniors. As we have pointed out many times, younger adults will rely on their Social Security and Medicare benefits even more than their parents and grandparents do now. Many of the GOP’s “entitlement reform” plans definitely would impact Gen Z, Millennials and some Gen X’ers when they retire.
“All of the evidence is that they want to do things like increase the retirement age. That is cutting Social Security… But they’re in a box because it’s highly unpopular.” – Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), 2/8/23
Yes, public polling consistently shows that bipartisan majorities of voters oppose benefit cuts. But they overwhelmingly support bringing more revenue into the program. Democrats introduced legislation in the last Congress to keep Social Security’s trust fund solvent by adjusting the payroll wage cap so that the wealthy contribute their fair share. Of all the solutions that Republicans favor, they apparently cannot stomach any revenue increases – no matter how equitable – which leaves them with one option: cut benefits. That is why, as Dan Adcock put it, “We’re not going to let our guard down” anytime soon.