STATE OF OUR UNION - Congressional Republicans made a show of jeering President Joe Biden Tuesday night when he said during his State of the Union address that some in their ranks have expressed support for cutting Social Security and Medicare—and even sunseting the programs completely.
"Liar!" Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) shouted from the audience in response to the president's comment.
After taking in the loud expressions of outrage from Greene and other Republicans in the House chamber, Biden said that "we all apparently agree, Social Security and Medicare is off the books now, right?"
"So tonight, let's all agree—and we apparently are—let's stand up for seniors," the president declared, sparking applause from Republicans and Democrats. "Stand up and show them we will not cut Social Security. We will not cut Medicare."
The exchange—and the bipartisan standing ovation that capped it off—became one of the most-discussed moments of the president's 73-minute address, but Social Security and Medicare defenders warned that it should not be taken as a sign that the programs are safe from Republican attacks.
"Even many Republicans stand for protecting Social Security and Medicare—but they've shown they can't be trusted to keep that promise," the progressive advocacy group Social Security Works tweeted late Tuesday. "Republicans have told us over and over again that they want to cut Social Security and Medicare. One moment of applause doesn't change that."
MoveOn, another progressive group, called the GOP show of support for Social Security mere "theatrics," pointing to Sen. Rick Scott's (R-Fla.) proposal to sunset all federal laws—including those authorizing Social Security and Medicare—every five years.
Beyond Scott's plan, the Republican Study Committee—the largest caucus of House Republicans—released a budget proposal last year that advocated gradually raising the retirement age, a change that would cut Social Security benefits across the board.
The Washington Post reported last month that some House Republicans have "resurfaced" the above plan and other possible changes—including bipartisan trust fund "commissions"—in recent days as they push for far-reaching federal spending cuts in exchange for any agreement to raise the U.S. debt ceiling.
As part of a speakership deal with far-right House Republicans, McCarthy agreed to advocate for a cap on federal spending at fiscal year 2022 levels, which would entail deep cuts to education spending, public health programs, and other critical areas.
In a statement ahead of Biden's speech, Alliance for Retired Americans executive director Richard Fiesta said that "we frankly don't believe" House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) when he insists the GOP has no intention of pursuing cuts to Social Security and Medicare as part of its austerity spree.
"More than 160 House Republicans endorsed a budget plan for fiscal year 2023 that increased the Social Security and Medicare eligibility age, privatized Social Security, and reduced Social Security benefits by changing the formula used to calculate them," Fiesta noted.
“Equally troubling is the recent letter two dozen Senate Republicans sent to President Biden on January 27," he added. "In it they vowed to vote against any bill to increase the debt ceiling that does not include 'real structural spending reform that reduces deficit spending and brings fiscal sanity back to Washington.' Seniors know that is code for Social Security and Medicare cuts."
In an op-ed for Common Dreams on Wednesday, Social Security Works president Nancy Altman wrote that "Democrats should make it clear to the American people which party supports Social Security by holding a vote on expanding, never cutting, Social Security's modest benefits."
"Democratic legislators have already authored several plans to do just that. President Biden ran on a similar plan. Now, he should release an official White House plan that expands Social Security with no cuts and requires the wealthiest to pay their fair share," Altman continued. "Then, Biden should challenge Republicans to release their own plan for Social Security and hold a vote. Let the American people see, in the light of day, the plan that each party has for the future of our earned benefits."
(Jake Johnson is a staff writer for Common Dreams where this story was first published.)