Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) on Tuesday proposed significant reforms to Social Security and Medicare that he said would protect the lifespan of the two popular entitlement programs.
Rubio in remarks at the National Press Club acknowledged his proposals would likely be used against him. But he said it was critical to change Social Security and Medicare to protect their solvency.
On Medicare, Rubio proposed transitioning to a premium support system, which would give people the choice of staying in traditional medicare or buying private insurance. The government woudl give seniors a fixed sum to purchase the private insurance.
This proposal is similar to what Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has included in his House GOP budget.
The address was the latest in a series of policy prescriptions Rubio has outlined in recent weeks as he seeks to regain a position on the national stage in advance of a potential 2016 presidential run.
Rubio outlined his proposals in deeply personal terms, opening his address by recounting the struggles his mother and father endured to help him succeed and declaring that “it was Social Security and Medicare that allowed them to retire with comfort and security.”
But he warned that the flagging economy threatens those programs, and in turn the prospect of retirement, for Americans.
“Financial security has faded for millions of Americans, and with it, the hope of a stable and secure retirement,” he said, warning of a “real and looming crisis” on Social Security and Medicare without reforms.
His proposals, he said, aimed to fix a system that “simply does not line up with the needs and the realities of our modern post-industrial economy.”
Rubio’s plan would allow private citizens to enroll in the federal retirement program that Congress and other federal workers use to help lower- and middle-income workers save for retirement, and to provide an option for Americans whose employers don’t offer retirement plans.
He would also “reduce the growth” of Social Security benefits for the wealthiest seniors, while “making the program even stronger for lower-income seniors,” though he didn’t offer specifics.
“This isn’t a cut,” Rubio said of his Social Security reforms. “It’s simply a reduction in how fast the benefit will increase for wealthier retirees.”
He also proposed eliminating the Social Security payroll tax on workers over the age of 65 who continue to work, which he said would help invigorate the economy by putting more money in the pockets of working seniors and businesses.
Democrats went on the attack, slamming Rubio for “renew[ing] the GOP’s commitment to ending Medicare as we know it.”
“In 2012, the Romney-Ryan ticket ran on that plan and it was soundly rejected by the voters. Senator Rubio’s plan is just the latest example of the Republican Party’s out of touch policies that benefit a few instead of extending opportunity for all,” said Democratic National Committee spokesman Michael Czin.
Czin also knocked Rubio for controversy surrounding comments he made this weekend that he doesn’t believe human activity causes climate change.
“Simply put – Rubio’s position is backward, but what else should we expect from someone who has attracted brutal headlines in the last few days for valuing partisan ideology more than science?”
This story was updated at 4:00 p.m.