Ahead of President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address, there was plenty of speculation about which issues would be the most contentious, and what the post-address public debate might look like. Would the focus be on inflation? Immigration? Would the conversation about Chinese balloons continue to dominate?
As it turns out, it was none of those things. As the Associated Press noted, the real focus — during the presidential remarks and after — was on Social Security and Medicare.
When President Joe Biden suggested that Republicans want to slash Medicare and Social Security, the GOP howls of protest during his State of the Union address showcased a striking apparent turnaround for the party that built a brand for years trying to do just that. Biden is not about to let Republicans off easily and forget that history.
There was no shortage of rhetoric yesterday, but the Republican pushback focused on three central claims, each of which were amazingly wrong and easily discredited. Let’s take them one at a time.
1. Republicans claimed Biden was wrong to say some in the GOP want to “sunset” Medicare and Social Security. During the State of the Union address, the Democrat said “some“ Republicans want to subject the social insurance programs to reapproval every five years. Sen. Rick Scott of Florida, among others in the GOP, was among many who said the president was “lying.”
He wasn’t. Scott released a written plan that really would sunset Social Security and Medicare, just as Biden claimed. Other Republicans have endorsed the same idea. Yesterday’s GOP whining was as bizarre as it was baseless.
2. Republicans claimed the GOP isn’t tying entitlements to the debt ceiling fight. In fact, Rep. Byron Donalds of Florida wrote on Twitter, “Joe Biden flat-out LIED when he said Republicans want to see cuts to Medicare and Social Security in the debt ceiling negotiations.” Sen. Mike Lee of Utah pushed a very similar message.
I don’t understand what it is that Donalds and Lee don’t understand. A variety of Republican officials have said — out loud, in public, and on the record — that they want to pursue Social Security and Medicare cuts by way of the GOP’s debt ceiling crisis. To drive home the point, the Biden White House sent Politico quite a few documented examples that leave no doubt that the president was right and Republicans like Donalds and Lee were wrong.
3. Republicans claim that the GOP doesn’t support Medicare and Social Security cuts in general. While it’s certainly true that prominent party leaders, including House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, have recently begun running away from the idea, the fact remains that Republicans have spent decades pursuing Social Security and Medicare cuts.
In fact, yesterday’s GOP pushback led to a variety of newly published reports documenting the many prominent Republicans who’ve made no secret of their support for cutting the social insurance programs.
All of which is to say, Republicans have decided to pick a fight over one of the Democrats’ strongest issues, claiming Biden was lying about something they’re lying about. I’m not sure which strategic GOP genius thought this would be wise, but the fact that the White House seems awfully happy about the developments should probably be a hint to Republicans that they’ve made a mistake.