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Biden ramps up attacks on GOP spending cuts

In possible campaign preview, he argues GOP proposals would mean slashing health care

President Biden delivers remarks on affordable health care Tuesday in Virginia Beach. (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)
6 min

VIRGINIA BEACH — President Biden, in a potential preview of his campaign message, ramped up criticism of Republican health-care proposals Tuesday, saying they would threaten such broadly popular programs as the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid.

Biden came to the Kempsville Recreation Center to deliver a new line of attack in a battle that has put the White House and congressional Republicans on a collision course. Some top Republicans have threatened to vote against raising the debt ceiling — which would cause the federal government to default on its loans — unless Biden agrees to significant cuts in federal spending.

“Make no mistake, if MAGA Republicans try to take away people’s health care by gutting Medicaid, the Affordable Care Act, I will stop them,” Biden said.

The president’s focus on health-care coverage is the next front in a debate that broke into the open most publicly during his State of the Union address, when he was heckled by some Republicans as he criticized their proposals that he said would mean cuts to Social Security and Medicare.

Biden referred to that moment with glee on Tuesday, recalling Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) calling him a “liar.” After mentioning her name, he paused and made the sign of the cross.

“I’m going to be good,” he said.

Republicans have largely backed away from any discussion of cuts to Social Security and Medicare. Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), who previously said he wanted Congress to vote every five years on all government programs, recently amended his plan to make exceptions for Medicare and Social Security.

Biden, who castigated Scott throughout the midterm elections, took on a mocking tone as he recounted Scott’s change in position. “Now he says, ‘Never mind,’” Biden said. “Although I notice he didn’t say never mind about Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act. They’re still on the chopping block.”

Scott has said that Democrats are twisting his words, adding that any worthy program could be reauthorized by Congress.

Republicans, who recently took control of the House, have emphatically stressed their desire to balance the budget without tax increases, meaning they would likely rely heavily on spending cuts. And as GOP leaders have provided few details of where those cuts would come from, the White House argues that they would necessarily target popular health-care programs.

The former Trump aide crafting the GOP's debt ceiling playbook

“The best guide to what’s going to be on the chopping block is what has been on the chopping block in virtually every single Republican budget and fiscal plan over the last decade,” said Aviva Aron-Dine, deputy director of the National Economic Council. “The guidepost is the plans that they’ve proposed — not just once or twice, but repeatedly over the last decade.”

White House aides also cite a proposal by Russell Vought, a former budget director in the Trump administration who has been advising congressional Republicans. The Washington Post reported last week that his proposal includes $2 trillion in cuts to Medicaid and more than $600 billion in cuts to the Affordable Care Act.

“They say they want to cut the deficit, but their plans actually would explode the deficit,” Biden said Tuesday. “How are they going to make the numbers add up? What are they going to cut? That’s the big question. For millions of Americans, health care hangs in the balance.”

Biden has said that while he will not negotiate over raising the debt ceiling, he is open to separate discussions with Republicans on taxes and spending. White House officials did not say explicitly whether he believes cuts to the ACA or Medicaid should be off the table in those talks.

Biden’s official budget proposal will be released on March 9, and administration officials say he will outline plans to build on the ACA and bolster Medicaid. Biden said flatly on Tuesday that his budget would include tax increases to help offset some of his proposed government spending.

“I want to make it clear, I’m going to raise some taxes,” he said. “If any of you are billionaires out there, you’re going to stop paying 3 percent. Not a joke ... The idea that they pay at a rate that is lower than the rate of a police officer, a schoolteacher, a nurse, is bizarre.”

Biden said that he recently met with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) — “not a bad guy,” he added — about how to proceed with their differences over spending.

“Instead of making threats about default, which can be catastrophic ... Let’s take that off the table and let’s have a conversation about how we’re going to grow the economy, lower the costs and reduce deficit,” Biden said, recounting what he told the Republican leader.

Biden also needled the GOP for not releasing its own budget plan, saying a deal cannot be struck until both sides outline their negotiating positions. “Then we can sit down and we can agree to disagree,” he said. “We can fight it out.”

Rep. Jen A. Kiggans (R-Va.), a nurse practitioner who was elected last year, said that she welcomed Biden to her district, but added, “I really wish the purpose of his visit was less partisan.”

“He’s coming here today to pit Republicans and Democrats against each other on the issue of healthcare,” she said in a statement ahead of his visit. “As the only geriatric nurse practitioner in Congress, I certainly know how important these programs are to our seniors.” Kiggans said that she was fighting to preserve the programs, not cut them.

Biden began his remarks by motioning to a group of nurses in the crowd and recounting his personal tragedies that were soothed by their profession. He recalled being in the ICU when his children were in a deadly car crash and when his son Beau died of brain cancer in 2015.

“You look at those machines and you know, the line goes flat — and it’s over,” he said.

He recalled being at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for surgery to correct an aneurysm. His nurse, Pearl Nelson, did things not taught in nursing school, he said.

“She’d whispered in my ear ... She’d lean down — she’d actually breathe on me to make sure that there was a connection, a human connection,” he said. “She even went home and brought back a pillow from her own bed because she knew I wasn’t comfortable.”

“You’re so underestimated,” he told the nurses. “You really are.”