Immediately following President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address last night, ABC News chief Washington correspondent Jonathan Karl leapt to defend the Republican Party from the president’s explanation that some members of the GOP hold out hopes of cutting vital entitlement programs, specifically Social Security and Medicare. Biden’s statement was obviously true based on publicly reported facts, the GOP’s long history of opposition to these programs, and even the words of top Republican leaders themselves — all of which Karl overlooked in dismissing the president’s comments as “over the top.”
It has been widely reported in recent weeks that House Republicans hope to use the debt ceiling crisis, which they have manufactured, to force Biden and the Democrats to adopt painful and unpopular cuts to Social Security or other important safety net programs. These Republican plans to target Social Security are in fact such an open secret that even disgraced former President Donald Trump has weighed in, warning the GOP against adopting such unpopular policies ahead of the 2024 election.
About midway through his speech last night, Biden explained that Republicans “want to take the economy hostage” as a condition of raising the debt ceiling, and in particular that they may demand concessions on Medicare and Social Security.
“Instead of making the wealthy pay their fair share, some Republicans — some Republicans, want Medicare and Social Security to sunset,” the president said. “I’m not saying it’s the majority.”
Then amid the loud jeers and disruptive booing from the Republican members, Biden further explained that sunsetting the programs would mean that “if Congress doesn’t keep the programs the way they are, they go away.”
Biden then urged Congress to promise that “we will not cut Social Security, we will not cut Medicare” as part of any debt ceiling negotiations, in a clear response to the recent House Republicans’ proposals.
But none of that stopped Karl from his attempt to defend Republicans, after Biden correctly called them out:
Biden specifically explained what it would mean to sunset Social Security and Medicare: The programs would be fundamentally changed and drastically weakened, put under threat year after year, if they survived at all.
Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL), who headed up the Senate Republican campaign arm for the 2022 election cycle, literally proposed a plan to sunset all federal legislation every five years. Social Security, Medicare, and other entitlement programs relied upon by tens of millions of Americans were not excluded from his drastic plan, as they were of course created by federal legislation in the first place. His plan claimed, “If a law is worth keeping, Congress can pass it again,” meaning they would be on the chopping block every time as Congress would have to reenact them from whole cloth again and again — much like the debt ceiling itself, whenever Republicans have controlled any chamber of Congress during a Democratic presidency.
During an interview on Fox News last year, Scott attempted to backpedal from his extreme and unpopular idea, claiming that he would not actually end Social Security and Medicare. Instead, he proposed, “Every program that we care about, we ought to stop and take the time to preserve those programs.”
In response to Biden calling out his plan last night, Scott reiterated it this morning with no apologies:
Scott claimed in a successive tweet, “I’ve never advocated cutting Social Security or Medicare and never would.” What his plan obviously means, however, is that these programs could be held hostage every five years, to be used as political bargaining chips in one manufactured crisis after another.
Scott is not alone in this idea, either — and it could actually be even worse. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) has proposed converting these programs from entitlements into discretionary spending, meaning they would have to be re-appropriated every single year. Instead of being a reliable financial backstop for senior citizens, they would be subject to each new set of political whims and demands annually.
Of course, these are just the most recent examples of the GOP’s decadeslong crusade to alter or abolish Social Security. Before ascending to his current position as speaker of the House, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) was part of the GOP’s self-appointed “Young Guns” group of fiscal policy scolds — alongside former Reps. Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Eric Cantor (R-VA). Regardless of what McCarthy now claims, he was part of a trio of Republican leaders who wrote an entire book outlining their plans to fundamentally alter Social Security and Medicare by privatizing the programs, restricting access, and reducing outlays to beneficiaries. (Ryan’s later record as speaker of the House also revealed that his self-perpetuated image as a deficit hawk was a massive fraud, though it had been the basis to justify his crusades to slash and eliminate social programs.)
Karl simply blew off this entire history involving multiple Republican leaders, including both a recent and incumbent speaker of the House and the GOP’s most recent Senate campaign chair. By calling Biden’s factual statements “over the top” and claiming there was “nobody seriously talking about” these proposals in the Republican Party, he did the public a serious disservice from his position as a mainstream news reporter.