As part of his plan to downsize the federal government, Republican Sen. Rick Scott says he wants all federal legislation to “sunset” in five years, and “[i]f a law is worth keeping, Congress can pass it again.” Well, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid were all created by legislation. And now Democrats are saying Republicans want to end those programs.
But Scott, who is chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, says he doesn’t want to end those programs, and he doesn’t know any Republican legislators who do.
Rather, Scott says he wants to “review,” “fix” and “preserve” those social programs so that they are financially solvent for the long term. Scott has not detailed how exactly he wants to change the programs, and whether that might mean fewer benefits. Nonetheless, Democrats go too far in ads and social media claims that say Scott, and all Republicans by extension, want to “end” or “phase out” those popular programs.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell flatly said that, if the Republicans win control of the Senate, sunsetting Social Security and Medicare “would not be a part of our agenda.”
Scott’s ’11-Point Plan’
Outlining his vision for what he thinks a Republican-controlled Congress should do after the 2022 elections, Scott in February put out “An 11-Point Plan to Rescue America.”
Under Point Six, which aims to shrink the size of the federal government, Scott writes, “All federal legislation sunsets in 5 years. If a law is worth keeping, Congress can pass it again.” Scott also writes that he would: “Force Congress to issue a report every year telling the public what they plan to do when Social Security and Medicare go bankrupt.”
The idea of sunset provisions — which the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service defines as a “concept [that] provides for programs and agencies to terminate automatically on a periodic basis unless explicitly renewed by law” — is not new. President George W. Bush called for the creation of a federal sunset commission in his fiscal year 2006 budget, and Rep. Kevin Brady, now Republican leader of the House Committee on Ways and Means, and other Republicans in Congress have repeatedly introduced sunset commission bills, or bills that include sunset measures.
Scott never specifically mentioned Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid in his call for sunsetting all federal legislation in five years, but he has acknowledged that they would be included. Scott says his aim would be to “fix,” not end, the programs. But as the New York Times wrote, it “would leave the fate of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security to the whims of a Congress that rarely passes anything so expansive.”
Still, some Democratic attacks have attached wider Republican support to the plan than it appears to enjoy, and have gone too far with claims that Republicans would necessarily do away with the social safety net programs entirely.
“What would they [Republicans] do if they were in the majority?” Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow said at a Senate Budget Committee hearing on March 30. “So under their plan, all federal laws sunset in five years. And of course, if you think about it, the implications of that are shocking. I mean that would mean an end to Medicare and Social Security and to Medicaid, which provides health care coverage for 86 million Americans including our seniors in nursing homes.”
Other Democratic Attacks
On April 28, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee tweeted that the “Senate Republicans’ plan would END” Social Security.
46.9 million retired workers
8.0 million workers with disabilities
3.9 million widows and widowers
2.3 million spouses
1.1 million adults with disabilities since childhood
2.7 million children
All rely on Social Security. Senate Republicans' plan would END it. pic.twitter.com/RUZ89COcVK
— Senate Democrats (@dscc) April 28, 2022
The tweet includes a video that starts with an edited clip of Fox News anchor John Roberts asking Scott about his plan.
“You recently put out an 11-point plan to rescue America,” Roberts said. “That would raise taxes on half of Americans and potentially sunset programs like Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security.”
Text in the video then states, “Republicans’ plan would make Social Security disappear,” warning that “nearly 70 million Americans would lose critical monthly payments.”
The Democratic attacks have also found their way into political campaign ads.
An ad from the DSCC says “Republicans’ plan” would “end Social Security” and “end Medicare.” It cites as a source a March 28 story in the Miami Herald about Scott’s exchange with Roberts on “Fox News Sunday.” But the article doesn’t say Scott’s plan would end those programs, and instead quotes Scott as saying he wants to “preserve those programs.”
A campaign ad from Alex Lasry, a U.S. Senate candidate in Wisconsin, also uses Scott’s plan as a basis for the claim that Republican Sen. Ron Johnson “is supporting the Republican plan that phases out Social Security and Medicare.”
On March 7, Johnson put out a press release offering general support for Scott’s plan, though it made no mention of Social Security and Medicare. Jake Wilkins, communications director for the Johnson campaign, told PolitiFact Wisconsin that Johnson “had repeatedly said we need to save these programs for future generations.” He added, “There is no ‘plan’ put forward by the Republican Party to eliminate Medicare and Social Security.”
Scott on Social Security, Medicare
In the same “Fox News Sunday” interview featured in the DSCC ad and tweet, Scott went on to say that he had no intention of eliminating Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid.
“Here’s what’s happening,” Scott said. “No one that I know of wants to sunset Medicare or Social Security, but what we’re doing is we don’t even talk about it. Medicare goes bankrupt in four years. Social Security goes bankrupt in 12 years. I think we ought to figure out how we preserve those programs. Every program that we care about, we ought to stop and take the time to preserve those programs.”
We wrote at the time that Scott went too far in claiming that Medicare will go “bankrupt” in four years and Social Security in 12 years. Government trustees project that certain Medicare and Social Security trust funds would become depleted by then, but payments would continue, albeit at a reduced rate.
As we said, Scott has not outlined how he would change Social Security and Medicare, and whether that might include a reduction in benefits. But he has not advocated eliminating the programs entirely.
And although Democrats have labeled Scott’s plan broadly as the “Senate Republicans’ plan,” there’s reason to believe it may not have widespread support in the party.
At a Senate Republicans press conference on March 1, and with Scott standing right behind him, Sen. Mitch McConnell said this: “If we’re fortunate enough to have the majority next year, I’ll be the Majority Leader. I’ll decide in consultation with my members what to put on the floor. And let me tell you what would not be a part of our agenda. We will not have as part of our agenda a bill that raises taxes on half of the American people and sunsets Social Security and Medicare within five years. That will not be part of a Republican Senate majority agenda.”
As our regular readers well know, claims about the other party wanting to dramatically cut or eliminate Medicare or Social Security are typical campaign fare. And so this claim tied to Scott’s plan seems likely to come up often between now and November.
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