Republicans are seeking to flip the script on Social Security as they dial up the pressure on President Biden.
Democrats for months have been on offense on Social Security, accusing Republicans repeatedly and publicly of wanting to make cuts to the entitlement program. But now some in the GOP are hitting back and trying to put the onus back on Biden to address the insolvency threat facing the program.
The dynamic was on full display in a pair of hearings this week that saw Republicans criticize White House officials and key in on the absence of a plan to shore up Social Security in the 2024 budget proposal the president released last week.
Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) was among other Republicans to broach the issue in a charged line of questioning against Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen during a Finance Committee hearing Thursday.
“Of the $4.5 trillion in taxes he has proposed, not a dime is going to shore up Social Security,” Cassidy said, before asking moments later “why doesn’t the president care” about threats to the program’s funding.
The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated last month the program’s fund risks running a shortfall in 2032.
Yellen responded that Biden “cares very deeply,” before Cassidy interjected to ask for the president’s plan to extend solvency for Social Security.
Yellen said that Biden “stands ready” to work with Congress on the matter, but Cassidy called the statement a “lie.”
“Because when a bipartisan group of senators has repeatedly requested to meet with him about Social, so that somebody who is a current beneficiary will not see her benefits cut by 24 percent, we have not heard anything on our request,” he said.
“And we’ve made multiple requests to meet with the president,” Cassidy added.
The Hill has reached out to the White House for comment.
Cassidy has been leading bipartisan talks with Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) to explore potential fixes to shore up funding for the program.
The issue was also subject of a heated exchange during a hearing before the Senate Budget Committee on Wednesday, when Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) pressed White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director Shalanda Young about Biden’s plans for the program and his accusations against Republicans.
“I know of no Republican or Democrat in the House or the Senate who is proposing cutting Social Security benefits, and it’s dishonest to keep saying it,” he told Young. “It’s offensive and dishonest and not realistic.”
“This president believes the biggest threat to Social Security are those who want to cut it,” Young said moments later. “His budget says no.”
Romney called the response “offensive in the extreme,” while doubling down on his argument that “no one” on the Republican side “is proposing cutting Social Security benefits for our Social Security recipients.”
The exchanges are some of the latest shows of frustration among Republicans, as the party has sought to quell concerns they are looking to cut Social Security, despite an onslaught of attacks from the other side.
“We’ll never get those programs reformed and saved without presidential leadership,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) told The Hill this week, saying Biden is “not doing anything.”
Democrats have pushed back on the criticisms, arguing the president’s resume speaks for itself on the matter.
“One way of looking at it is through the budget, but I think the president’s got a long record of outlining steps he would take to strengthen Social Security,” Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) told The Hill on Wednesday.
“Unfortunately, the debate around here has been Republicans wanting to make changes or privatize or private accounts, there’s so many different ideas,” he argued. “So, he spent a lot of time pushing back against that, but I think our side has been in the, in the lane of trying to strengthen it.”
The president’s budget request included investments aimed at improving services for recipients. And while he didn’t propose a plan for solvency for Social Security, the request offered a path to plan to shore up Medicare, as some estimates project the program’s Hospital Insurance trust fund will reach insolvency in roughly five years. The budget calls for a higher tax rate on earned and unearned income above $400,000, which the White House says will protect the fund for at least 25 years.
The pitch was instantly met with immediate support from Democrats, though Republicans came out against the proposed tax hike. Others say they were also taken aback by the inclusion of a plan for Medicare, and not Social Security, though it’s not the first time that plans for solvency for either program have been absent from the president’s budget requests.
Sen. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.) on Wednesday called the move by Biden surprising, while arguing changes to Social Security are probably “easier” to tackle than reforms to Medicare, though “harder to do politically.”
Rubio said otherwise on Wednesday, instead arguing that “no one wants to touch” the program, as changes to entitlement programs have long been seen as a tough lift on Capitol Hill.
“In fairness, Republican presidents really haven’t either because it’s a third rail politically. But the math is what it is on those programs,” he said, adding: “Eventually, we’re gonna have to confront it.”
Democrats began to ramp up attacks on Republicans over Social Security months ago, after some GOP members floated linking potential entitlement reforms to a deal to avoid a federal default late last year.
The Republican Study Committee, the biggest conservative caucus in the House, has also received attention for proposals to tighten the eligibility age for Social Security and Medicare, an idea many Democrats see as a nonstarter.
And while there has been interest among the conference’s conservative flank toward pursuing changes to the age threshold for Social Security in recent months, GOP leadership has vowed reforms to Social Security or Medicare will be off the table in debt ceiling talks.
However, that hasn’t stopped Democrats from sounding the alarm as House Republicans pushed for plans to balance the federal budget in 10 years — an ambitious goal Democrats say would be extremely difficult without steep cuts to spending across the board, including to Social Security.
But despite distrust among some Democrats, a number of senators in the party have signaled a willingness to explore bipartisan solutions to help shore up funds for Social Security and Medicare in recent weeks.
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who’s been among the most vocal Democrats pushing for bipartisan funding fixes for the entitlement program, said on Wednesday that he wants Congress to “take care of both.”