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Social Security and Medicare defenders often say that the public doesn’t understand the threat that Republicans pose to these programs.  Indeed, many Republicans proclaim support for both while pushing proposals to undermine them.  But lately it seems as if Republicans are going out of their way to lay bare their intentions – or, as some put it, “to say the quiet part out loud.” 

Earlier this week, Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) said during an interview that Social Security and Medicare should no longer be mandatory spending programs. Instead, he said, they should be considered “discretionary spending” and subject to routine budget negotiations every year.  This, of course, violates the basic principles of social insurance, where workers pay into the system now in order to collect guaranteed benefits later.  Leaving those benefits to the “discretion” of Congress every fiscal year would break the fundamental promise of Social Security and Medicare. 

It’s little wonder, then, that Sen. Johnson’s proposal attracted a lot of media attention – and probably not the kind that he wanted.  Here are just a few of the headlines:  

Ron Johnson aims to put Social Security on the chopping block, White House says. (Truthout) 

Lt. Governor Slams ‘Self-Serving, Multimillionaire’ Ron Johnson for Attack on Social Security, Medicare (Salon) 

Chris Wallace calls Ron Johnson’s Social Security, Medicare idea ‘suicidal politics’ (The Hill) 

Sen. Johnson suggests ending Medicare, Social Security as mandatory spending programs (Washington Post) 

As these two landmark social insurance programs mark their anniversaries this summer (Medicare on July 30th and Social Security on August 14th), Republicans are piling up proposals that could weaken or outright end them. Sen. Johnson’s is merely the latest in a series of really bad ideas. (See Sen. Rick Scott’s proposal to sunset Social Security and Medicare after five years — or Sen. Mitt Romney’s TRUST Act, for starters.) This is not a surprise, as most Republicans opposed Social Security and Medicare when they were enacted in 1935 and 1965, respectively – and have been hoping to undo or privatize both programs for decades. 

Sen. Johnson surely is no friend to Social Security and Medicare, having called the former “a Ponzi scheme” just last year.  His Democratic opponent in the fall mid-terms, Wisconsin Lt. Governor Mandela Barnes, wasted no time calling Johnson out for his latest proposal: 

“Barnes slammed Sen. Ron Johnson as a ‘self-serving, multimillionaire’ after the sitting Republican from Wisconsin called for making both Social Security and Medicare discretionary programs—a reform that would pave the way for the GOP to realize its half-century-long dream of dismantling two of the nation’s most essential and popular social programs.” 

The White House, too, was quick to respond to Sen. Johnson, tweeting: 

“Congressional Republicans like Senator Ron Johnson want to put Social Security and Medicare on the chopping block…That would devastate families.” – White House tweet, 8/2/22 

None other than former FOX News anchor Chris Wallace excoriated Johnson during an interview on CNN: 

Social Security is not money that is just handed out to Americans. ‘Hey, here’s some free money.’ We pay into Social Security. We pay into Medicare. It’s, in effect, an insurance policy. Nobody would say, ‘You’re not entitled to the benefit for a life insurance when the person who has the policy dies.’ We have been paying into the system for years.”

Wallace called Johnson’s plan “suicidal politics.”  That seems like a fair characterization given that Social Security and Medicare are incredibly popular. In poll after poll, overwhelming majorities say they want to see both programs protected and expanded, not cut and privatized.  

“Both programs were first introduced in order to provide a crucial social safety net for seniors, disabled people and other vulnerable populations; Social Security… has allowed millions of people to retire and avoid poverty. Medicare has saved countless lives, and experts say that cutting it would be disastrous.” – Truthout, 8/3/22 

By continuing to push proposals that undermine the very nature of Social Security and Medicare, Republicans are gambling that the public will be fooled or simply not care.  Heading into this fall’s mid-term elections, all workers and retirees should make sure they know not just what their candidates say about these programs, but what they actually propose to do.  Republicans – who hope to retake both houses of Congress in November – are making their destructive agenda increasingly apparent to anyone who is listening.