During and after President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address, a dispute over social insurance programs became the basis for an unexpected partisan argument. On one side, there’s the White House, eagerly reminding the public about many Republicans’ hostility toward Social Security and Medicare.
On the other, there are GOP officials accusing Biden of “lying” about their position, while struggling badly to point to anything specific that the president said that isn’t true.
Helping lead the way for his party was Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin who said yesterday morning, “President Biden is lying about me. He lied last night, and he lied again today.”
To the extent that reality still has any meaning, the Democrat characterized the Republican senator as an opponent of Social Security. And it was against that backdrop that Johnson, for reasons I don’t fully understand, thought it’d be a good idea to prove Biden right. Wisconsin Public Radio reported:
A day after he was called out by President Joe Biden, Wisconsin U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson reiterated his support for taking annual votes on funding Medicare and Social Security, calling Social Security a “Ponzi scheme” in the process. … In a statement to Fox News, Johnson accused Biden of lying about him. But in an interview with WISN-AM in Milwaukee Thursday morning, Johnson stood by his plan, saying it was time to change the way Medicare and Social Security are funded.
It takes a special kind of politician to accuse a rival of lying while simultaneously proving that the rival isn’t lying.
“It’s a legal Ponzi scheme,” Johnson said, deriding Social Security.
The far-right senator went on to lament the fact that George W. Bush’s privatization agenda failed. “That was privatizing Social Security, like that was like the worst thing in the world,” Johnson argued. “Well, had we done it back then, Social Security might be in a more stable position for younger workers. But we didn’t do that.”
None of this comes as much of a surprise. Even during his re-election campaign last year, Johnson freely admitted that he wanted to move Medicare and Social Security into Congress’ discretionary budget — in the process, ending guaranteed and automatic benefits — where the programs could be subjected to annual cuts.
He also told voters that Social Security “was set up improperly” and that the system’s funds would have been better off invested in the stock market.
By any fair measure, Johnson was the only incumbent Senate candidate in a battleground state last year to run — and win — as an overt critic of Social Security. It’s no wonder the Wisconsinite continues to criticize the program: He won’t face voters again until 2028, and he’s learned that his constituents will tolerate his hostility toward the popular program.
But what makes all of this especially notable is Johnson’s timing: As Biden and his allies tell the public that Republicans would put Social Security and Medicare at risk, Johnson is serving up rhetoric that makes things even easier for the White House’s communications team.
If Team Biden is lucky, Johnson will just keep talking.