6 min read

Biden’s favorite Republican

Democrats take a post-SOTU victory lap around Rick Scott.
Biden’s favorite Republican
(Gage Skidmore)

Good morning! It’s Thursday, February 9, 2023. The 2024 elections are 635 days away.

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Medicare, Social Security move to center stage as Biden-Scott feud escalates

You might think that Joe Biden’s favorite Republican would be a lawmaker in the mold of Liz Cheney or Adam Kinzinger, the so-called “Never Trumpers” who have made a habit of bucking GOP leadership.  

But Tuesday night’s State of the Union offered a reminder of who his favorite Republican really is: Florida Sen. Rick Scott.

During his address, when Republicans booed as Biden leveled the claim that some in their party have proposed cutting Medicare and Social Security, Biden said he was “politely not naming them.”

By Wednesday, Biden had dropped the sheen of politeness and happily invoked Scott by name, even bringing along a brochure detailing the senator’s 12-point “Rescue America” plan.

Scott angrily fired back on Twitter, calling Biden’s claim “a lie” from “a very confused president” and insisting that it was actually Biden who has proposed clashing Medicare and Social Security.

Who’s telling the truth?

As usual, the facts lie somewhere in the middle.

Scott’s 12-point plan, released during the 2022 midterm campaign, calls for “all federal legislation” to be sunset every five years, which means programs would have to be actively renewed to stay in place.

He never singles out Medicare and Social Security, as Biden’s comments seem to suggest, but as federal laws, they would be regularly jeopardized along with everything else under his proposal. (Medicare, enacted in 1965, provides health insurance to Americans 65 and older. Social Security, enacted in 1935, provides benefits to retirees and disabled people.)

Scott has said he would not support ending either entitlement program, but he has also not amended his plan to explicitly protect them. Instead, he says they would obviously be protected by lawmakers. “Does [Biden] think I also intend to get rid of the U.S. Navy?” Scott tweeted. “Or the border patrol? Or air traffic control, maybe?” (In fact, they would all have to be renewed every five years under his rubric.)

As for Biden, he proposed a plan as a young Delaware senator in 1975 that would have sunset all federal programs every four years, almost exactly the same as Scott’s.

The decades-old bill contradicts itself about whether it would have impacted legislation passed before its introduction, but Biden didn’t mince words on that point in 1995: “When I argued that we should freeze federal spending, I meant Social Security as well,” he said at the time. “I meant Medicare and Medicaid.”

So, to recap: Both men have proposed plans that would have the effect of putting Medicare and Social Security in danger, but neither actually support cutting funding to the programs.  

Dreams and nightmares.

Regardless, Democrats could not be happier about how this debate is playing out. Any time Medicare and Social Security are the center of discussion, the party’s leaders figure, they’re winning and Republicans are on defense.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer boasted that Biden “rope-a-doped” Republicans during the State of the Union, while outgoing White House chief of staff Ron Klain reportedly told colleagues that the exchange would be remembered as one of the all-time great State of the Union moments.

During a speech in Wisconsin on Wednesday, Biden gleefully recounted the back-and-forth. “It looks like we negotiated a deal least night on the floor of the House of Representatives,” he declared.

“A lot of Republicans, their dream is to cut Social Security and Medicare,” he also said. “Well, let me just say this: It’s your dream, but I’m going to — my veto pen make it a nightmare.”

It is something of an odd situation: No leading Republican is actually trying to make Social Security or Medicare part of the ongoing fiscal negotiations (House Speaker Kevin McCarthy has already ruled out doing so), but Biden is intent on injecting the programs into the conversation so he can play the role of defending them.

The White House is almost refusing to take “yes” for an answer, keeping latent threats against Medicare and Social Security in the spotlight even after the bipartisan show of support for them on Tuesday.

Eye on 2024.

Biden is poised to continue this strategy all the way into 2024. Today, he will take his efforts to Tampa, Florida — Scott’s home state — where he is delivering a speech squarely focused on Social Security and Medicare.

From there, Semafor reports, Democrats plan to make protecting entitlement programs a signature issue of Biden’s 2024 campaign.

Along with Scott, Democrats will likely resurrect a foil from Biden’s past: former House Speaker Paul Ryan, who Biden ran against for vice president in 2012.

During that campaign, Obama and Biden used Ryan’s proposal to turn Medicare into a voucher program to great effect. This year, many potential Republican presidential candidates voted for Ryan’s budget as members of the House.

As Semafor notes, former Vice President Mike Pence, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, and South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem are all included in that number. (Another former House member, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, also voted for similar proposals during his time in Congress.)

The lone exception? Former President Donald Trump, who ran against cutting Medicare and Social Security in 2016 and will likely use the issue as a bludgeon against his primary opponents next year.

Beyond praise for the first lady, it might be the one message you can expect to hear coming from both Trump and Biden in the months ahead.

More news to know.

(Pennsylvania governor’s office)

FETTERMAN: “Sen. John Fetterman of Pennsylvania was hospitalized Wednesday after ‘feeling lightheaded’ while on a Senate Democratic retreat in Washington D.C., his office announced.” CBS

BIG TECH: “The House Republicans’ hearing on Twitter’s ‘role in suppressing the Biden laptop story’ took some unexpected twists Wednesday — including one witness testifying that the White House had requested the platform remove a Chrissy Teigen tweet insulting then-President Donald Trump.” NBC

EARTHQUAKE: “Thousands who lost their homes in a catastrophic earthquake huddled around campfires and clamored for food and water in the bitter cold, three days after the temblor and series of aftershocks hit Turkey and Syria, killing more than 19,300.” AP

The day ahead.

All times Eastern.

President Biden will continue his post-State of the Union tour with a trip to Tampa, Florida, where he will speak about Social Security and Medicare.

Vice President Harris will travel to St. Cloud, Minnesota, to deliver remarks on investments in electric vehicles.

Second Gentleman Emhoff will deliver remarks at a UN event on antisemitism.

The Senate will vote to confirm one Biden appeals court nominee and to advance another. DeAndrea Benjamin, who is expected to be confirmed today, will be the first federal judge approved by the Senate in 2023 and the 98th since Biden took office.

The House will vote on a resolution condemning the Chinese spy balloon. The chamber will also vote on a pair of joint resolutions overturning D.C. Council bills; one of those bills would allow non-citizens to vote in local elections, while the other would overhaul the district’s criminal code.

Congress reserves the right to overturn any bill passed by the D.C. Council, the capital city’s equivalent of a state legislature, within 30 (or sometimes 60) days. To stop the bills from becoming law, both chambers of Congress must pass the joint resolutions and the president has to sign them.

The House Weaponization of Government Subcommittee will hold its first-ever hearing. Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Ron Johnson (R-WI) will testify, along with Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD) and Tulsi Gabbard, a former Democratic congresswoman who has left the party.

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