The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

McConnell slams Scott over plan to sunset Medicare, Social Security

U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) addresses the media after a Republican policy luncheon at the Capitol on Jan. 31. (Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post)
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In recent days, President Biden has been hammering Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) for his plan that would require Congress to reauthorize even popular programs such as Social Security and Medicare every five years to keep them operating.

On Thursday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) joined in the criticism, suggesting that provisions in Scott’s plan could hurt him in his bid for reelection next year in Florida, a state with the greatest share of seniors in the nation.

“That’s not a Republican plan. That was the Rick Scott plan,” McConnell told longtime Kentucky radio host Terry Meiners when asked about the provision calling for the sunsetting of Social Security and Medicare every five years.

“The Republican plan, as I pointed out last fall, if we were to [become] the majority, there were no plans to raise taxes on half the American people or to sunset Medicare or Social Security,” McConnell said. “So it’s clearly the Rick Scott plan. It is not the Republican plan. And that’s the view of the speaker of the House as well.”

McConnell was alluding to another provision in Scott’s broader 12-point plan that would require all Americans to “pay some income tax to have skin in the game.” As Scott noted, about half of Americans currently pay no federal income tax. That proposal was dropped from a revised version of Scott’s plan.

In his State of the Union address on Feb. 7, Republicans jeered when President Biden said that some members wanted to cut major entitlement programs. (Video: The Washington Post)

In his State of the Union address — and subsequent stops in Wisconsin and Florida, Biden has called out Republicans such as Scott and Sens. Mike Lee (Utah) and Ron Johnson (Wis.) who have talked about significant changes to the major entitlement programs to address the nation’s debt. The president’s remarks Tuesday night elicited jeers, catcalls and booing from some Republicans, but the White House sees it as a wedge issue as Biden is expected to announce he will run for reelection this spring.

Democrats also see the Republican proposal and statements as a way to cast the GOP as extreme and, in the run-up to presidential and congressional elections, appeal to a bloc that consistently votes — seniors. Johnson gave them fodder on Thursday when he stood by his description of Social Security as a “Ponzi scheme,” prompting Democratic attacks.

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McConnell sought to distance himself from Scott’s plan as soon as it was released last year, recognizing the political peril it presented for Republicans. His comments Thursday put him squarely with Biden and sent a clear message that GOP leadership wants no part of the proposal. Last month, former president Donald Trump — the only announced White House candidate — warned the GOP to avoid cuts to Medicare and Social Security.

Trump warns GOP about efforts to cut Social Security, Medicare

Scott, who presided over the National Republican Senatorial Committee during a disappointing midterm cycle for his party last year, subsequently sought to challenge McConnell for minority leader in the Senate and fell well short.

Asked Thursday if Scott’s leadership bid had anything to do with his views of Scott’s sunset plan, McConnell said that it “doesn’t have anything to do with that.”

“I mean, it’s just a bad idea,” McConnell said. “I think it will be a challenge for [Scott] to deal with this in his own reelection in Florida, a state with more elderly people than any state in America.”

Pushing back, Chris Hartline, a former communications director for Scott who is now a consultant on his reelection campaign, tweeted Thursday night: “Lol. Rick Scott knows how to win Florida a hell of a lot better than Mitch McConnell does. Some DC Republicans can keep parroting Democrat lies, but that won’t stop Rick Scott from fighting for conservative principles instead of caving to Biden every day.”

The antipathy between the two Republicans has been evident for months and has become more public in recent weeks.

Scott said McConnell’s decision to take him off the Senate Commerce Committee was retribution for challenging the GOP leader.

“He completely opposed me putting out a plan,” Scott said in an interview on CNN on Feb. 2. “I believe that everybody up here — this is not a Republican-Democrat issue — we all ought to be putting out our ideas and fight over ideas up here.”

“He didn’t like that I opposed him because I believe we have to have ideas — fight over ideas. And so, he took Mike Lee and I off the committee,” the former Florida governor said.

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Lee had supported Scott’s challenge to McConnell.

During a radio interview Thursday, Johnson reiterated his contention that Social Security and Medicare should be eliminated as federal entitlement programs and that they should instead be considered by Congress annually as discretionary spending.

“We’ve got to put everything on-budget so we’re forced to prioritize spending,” Johnson told WISN-AM in Milwaukee. “That doesn’t mean putting it on the chopping block. That doesn’t mean cutting Social Security. But it does mean prioritizing.”

Johnson argued during the interview that the current structure of Social Security is unsustainable.

“It’s a legal Ponzi scheme,” Johnson said, echoing an argument he has made for years.

On Friday, congressional Democrats were seizing anew on the term “Ponzi scheme,” which is a type of fraud.

“The Extreme MAGA Republican crowd claims Social Security is a Ponzi scheme,” tweeted House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.). “More evidence they want to destroy it. Dems must stop them.”

In another tweet, Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) cited Johnson’s use of the term, as well as Scott’s proposal for Social Security and Medicare.

“When people show you who they are, believe them,” Lieu wrote.