- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 9, 2023

President Biden, speaking in Tampa, leaned into his attacks on Sen. Rick Scott, Florida Republican, for proposing to let all federal programs sunset after five years. The president said the entitlement benefits would likely survive but might be trimmed back in a recurring review period.

“It’s likely to get cut drastically if you had to do it every five years,” Mr. Biden said at the University of Tampa. “If anyone tries to cut Social Security, we’re going to stop it, if anyone tries to cut Medicare, we’re going to stop it.”

Mr. Biden‘s attack stems from a broad plan issued by Mr. Scott during last year’s campaign that said all federal legislation should sunset after five years and, “if a law is worth keeping, Congress can pass it again.”

The president proposed something similar decades ago as a U.S. senator, and GOP leaders have repeatedly said that cuts to those programs are off the table as both sides wrangle over spending priorities and raising the debt limit.

Even so, Mr. Biden is making his claims about elderly entitlements as he eyes tough negotiations over an extension of federal borrowing authority and a critical decision on whether to run for reelection in 2024.

During his State of the Union address Tuesday, Mr. Biden said that some in the GOP think Medicare and Social Security should be on the chopping block, sparking an angry outburst from the Republican side of the chamber.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, Georgia Republican, shouted, “liar!” Others yelled similarly.

“We had a little bit of a spirited debate at the State of the Union,” Mr. Biden told Floridians on Thursday. “Republicans seemed shocked when I took out the pamphlets they are using.”

Even as he criticized Republicans, Mr. Biden said he interpreted the GOP outcry on Tuesday as a form of victory, in that Congress agreed to leave entitlement programs alone.

Mr. Scott is defending his plan against Mr. Biden‘s attacks. He pointed to Mr. Biden‘s own push in 1975 to sunset federal programs every (in his case) four years to review their cost and worthiness.

Mr. Biden then defended the idea in a fiery Seante-floor speech in 1995. Mr. Scott said he never singled out Social Security and Medicare and lawmakers would be ready to defend vital programs during any review period.

“Nobody believes that I want to cut Medicare or Social Security,” Mr. Scott told CNN.

While politicians bicker over their intentions, trustees for the entitlement programs say they’re both on the path to insolvency.

Social Security trust funds will be insolvent by 2035. At exhaustion, Social Security benefits will be cut by 20% or more, meaning a $12,000 to $17,000 benefit cut for a typical couple retiring in 2035, according to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.

The Medicare Hospital Insurance (HI) trust fund is on track to be depleted by 2028 when the newest beneficiaries turn 70.

CFRB said once that happens, Medicare payments to hospitals “will automatically be cut by 10%, likely through payment delays that would jeopardize access to care.”

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Mr. Biden strengthen Medicare by using his signature tax-and-climate legislation to allow the program to negotiate down the amount it has to pay for certain prescription drugs.

“It strengthens Medicare, it protects Medicare. It helps lower costs, in particular, especially for seniors,” Ms. Jean-Pierre told reporters on Air Force One.

Mr. Biden on Thursday said the GOP also wants to repeal that law, which last year capped insulin at $35 a month for seniors and allowed Medicare to negotiate the cost of certain drugs for the first time.

The number of drugs eligible for negotiation starts with 10 drugs in Part D — the retail pharmacy segment of Medicare — in 2026 but expands in later years to dozens of drugs in Part D and Part B, which covers physician-administered drugs, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

“If Republicans in Congress have their way, the power we just gave Medicare to negotiate lower prescription drug prices goes away,” Mr. Biden said. “The $35-a-month insulin limitation goes away.”

Republicans in both chambers have been critical of the provision, saying it blocks medical innovation and/or is unconstitutional, and some have introduced bills to repeal it, though they have gone nowhere,

Mr. Biden‘s visit to Florida is notable. It is home to many retirees who rely on health insurance from Medicare and regular checks from Social Security, and seniors are considered a reliable voting bloc.

“You have the highest percentage of seniors of any state in the nation,” Mr. Biden told his Tampa audience.

Not coincidentally, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is considered the strongest possible alternative to former President Donald Trump in the GOP presidential primary. Polls suggest Mr. DeSantis would be a formidable challenge for Mr. Biden if he opts to run for reelection.

Mr. Biden mentioned the governor by name in criticizing the Republican leader for refusing to accept federal Obamacare dollars to expand Medicaid coverage for the poor.

“Over 1.1 million people in Florida would be eligible for Medicaid if Gov. DeSantis just said, ‘I agree to expand it.’ This isn’t calculus,” Mr. Biden said. “It’s time to get this done, it really is.”

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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