Sun Sentinel Palm Beach Edition

GOP retreats from entitlemen­t cuts

Rick Scott revises controvers­ial plan to balance budget

- By Carl Hulse

WASHINGTON — Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., finally recognized this week what leading figures in his party had been telling him for a year: Most Republican­s no longer wish to discuss cutting Social Security and Medicare as a way to balance the federal budget and bring down the soaring debt.

After decades of talk of scaling back the popular — and increasing­ly expensive — federal entitlemen­t programs for older Americans, Republican­s have for now abandoned that approach. It is an acknowledg­ment of the political risks of shrinking benefits relied on by millions of voters.

The capitulati­on by Scott, who Friday relented and explicitly walled off Social Security and Medicare from his proposal to terminate all federal programs every five years and subject them to congressio­nal review, was the latest evidence that Republican­s would be looking elsewhere for savings in a coming showdown with the White House and congressio­nal Democrats.

The hardening position of the party will significan­tly affect the dynamic around seeking spending cuts in exchange for raising the federal debt limit this year by focusing scrutiny instead on domestic spending, foreign aid and other safety-net programs such as Medicaid and food stamps.

The shift comes as it has grown increasing­ly clear that Social Security and Medicare are unsustaina­ble in their current form; new forecasts from the nonpartisa­n Congressio­nal Budget Office released this week showed spending growth on the programs rapidly outpacing the growth in federal tax revenues over the next decade, as more baby boom

ers reach retirement age and begin to tap their benefits.

“The political rhetoric surroundin­g the issue is completely at odds with the reality,” said Maya MacGuineas, president of the Center for a Responsibl­e Budget. “If we do nothing, there will be brutal across-the-board cuts in Social Security benefits and to providers in Medicare.”

It is a sharp reversal for Republican­s who previously have regularly pursued “privatizat­ion” of both Social Security and Medicare to reduce federal red ink by shifting more responsibi­lity and costs onto those covered by the programs — efforts that largely failed after running into a political buzz saw. The evolution in the longtime position has been accelerate­d by warnings from Donald Trump, the former president and current presidenti­al candidate, that Republican­s should not touch either program — and that they will hear from him if they do.

Scott said the agenda he issued early last year, as chair of the Senate Republican campaign arm, was never intended to propose cuts in the popular retirement programs, although he did not include any carveout for either in his plan.

Scott has argued that his ideas were purposeful­ly mischaract­erized by President Joe Biden as well as Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the minority leader, as cutting Social Security and Medicare, when his goal was to protect them.

Still, in a tacit concession that he had erred, Scott wrote in an opinion essay in The Washington Examiner on Friday that he was amending the proposal he made as chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee to exclude “Social Security, Medicare, national security, veterans’ benefits and other essential services” from the requiremen­t for a five-year review.

Biden infuriated Republican­s at his State of the Union address last week when he cited Scott’s plan as evidence that the GOP would take aim at Social Security in its push to cut spending in exchange for agreeing to raise the federal debt limit this year. The White House on Friday saw Scott’s change in his manifesto as an admission that Biden was correct when he accused the Floridian and other Republican­s of targeting Social Security.

“The president congratula­tes Sen. Scott on joining the post-State of the Union red wave of Republican­s acknowledg­ing that they have, in fact, been attempting to put Medicare and Social Security on the chopping block,” said Andrew Bates, a White House spokespers­on.

McConnell disavowed the Scott proposal from the start, saying it was Scott’s idea alone and did not represent the view of Senate Republican­s.

But Scott’s internally elected position as chair of the campaign committee gave the proposal heft since his role was to advise and bolster Republican Senate candidates. McConnell and others have said the proposal gave Democrats political ammunition that hurt Republican­s’ chances for Senate seats in Nevada and Pennsylvan­ia, among other places.

In his opinion essay, Scott accused Biden and McConnell of playing “shallow gotcha politics” in attacking his proposal.

While the position of the GOP seems set against exploring Social Security and Medicare cuts, not all in the party are ready to give up on exploring ways to overhaul the programs.

“Are we just going to lie to the American public and say Social Security and Medicare will be fine if you don’t do anything with them?” asked Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D. “The longer we wait, the more dramatic the fix will be. It is the driver of the debt.”

 ?? ANNA MONEYMAKER/GETTY ?? Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., talks to reporters last month about negotiatio­ns on the debt limit.
ANNA MONEYMAKER/GETTY Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., talks to reporters last month about negotiatio­ns on the debt limit.

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