Sensing that Americans don’t like the notion of being denied the retirement benefits they’ve paid into their entire lives, Republicans are trying to argue that they never threatened the programs in the first place. Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), who looked enraged when Biden mentioned Republicans’ plans to cut Medicare and Social Security at the State of the Union, issued a statement on Twitter: “I am aware of NO REPUBLICAN—in either House of Congress—who has suggested any modification of Social Security as a condition for raising the debt ceiling.” The White House sent Politico a convenient list of news articles in which Republicans do just that. (Never mind that Lee himself once said, “It will be my objective to phase out Social Security—to pull it up by the roots and get rid of it.”)
And we’re finally hearing a mealymouthed rebuttal from Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), architect of an apparently unpopular plan to sunset federal legislation—including Medicare and Social Security—every five years. On CNN, Scott said, “I’ve been clear. I’m not gonna do it,” before launching into a debate with the reporter over whether reducing prescription drug spending qualifies as a cut to Medicare. (It doesn’t.)
Still, it’s unclear whether the comments from Scott, who served as governor of Florida before Ron DeSantis, will sway voters in the Sunshine State.
The governor offers an interesting case himself. In the early 2010s, DeSantis was elected to Congress as part of the Tea Party push. A central tenet of the movement was austerity. As CNN reported, DeSantis “repeatedly said he supported plans to replace Medicare with a system in which the government paid for partial costs of private plans.” He reportedly called for the doing “the same thing” with Social Security.
Many of the hopefuls for the 2024 nomination have similar track records. The problem for the GOP is that a large wing of its party rose to power on the idea of vastly cutting entitlements under the Tea Party—and now, within a decade, is expecting Americans to forget.
New angles on austerity? Sure. Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) is proposing budget cuts as part of a new Cold War on China in the Wall Street Journal. Today, George Will once again gleefully championed cuts to the safety net. But the past is not dead when it comes to Republicans wanting to shrink entitlements; it’s not even past.