White House spars with GOP senator on Social Security

The White House on Thursday hit back at Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) after the senator insisted he was not aware of any Republican in Congress who has tried to tie Social Security reforms to raising the debt ceiling, the latest swipe the administration has taken at the GOP on the issue. 

“By protesting too much, Congressional Republicans keep proving the President’s point about their long history of threatening Medicare and Social Security,” deputy White House press secretary Andrew Bates said in a statement to The Hill.

“Half of Sen. Lee’s statement is an admission that he did indeed call for eliminating Social Security outright. But in terms of his claim that he’s aware of ‘no Republican — in either House of Congress — who has suggested any modification to Social Security as a condition for raising the debt ceiling,’ we can help.”

Bates pointed to several reports from the past few months about Republicans eyeing changes to Social Security and Medicare. 

He noted an October Fox News piece headlined “Republicans eye using debt limit hike to overhaul entitlement programs if entrusted with majority” that quoted multiple House members.

He pointed to a November Bloomberg report that said Sen. John Thune (S.D.), the No. 2 Senate Republican, indicated the party wanted to leverage the debt limit increase to secure cuts in federal spending and changes to entitlement programs.

Bates cited a Jan. 6 Reuters report that “several leading GOP House members are threatening to block an increase to force cuts to Medicare and Social Security spending.”

And the White House aide highlighted a Jan. 24 report from The Washington Post headlined “House GOP eyes Social Security, Medicare amid spending battle.”

The White House has gone back and forth with Lee in the time since President Biden’s State of the Union address on Tuesday, when the president drew jeers from the Utah senator and others when he argued some Republicans wanted to hold the debt ceiling hostage in order to sunset Social Security and Medicare.

Biden on Wednesday directly quoted a 2010 video in which Lee said: “I’m here right now to tell you one thing you’ve probably never heard from a politician. It’ll be my objective to phase out Social Security.”

Lee defended his stance in a lengthy statement issued Tuesday night, saying his comments at the time were meant to reflect how Congress should not have “sweeping power over people’s livelihoods,” but that existing commitments should be honored.

“In repeatedly quoting my 2010 remarks today, President Biden conveniently left out that critical details—that even when I voiced that position, I insisted that we honor the reliance interests of those who have paid into the system,” Lee said in a statement, adding that he has not proposed abolishing Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid during his time as a senator.

Biden has embraced the back-and-forth with Republicans over Social Security and Medicare for months, viewing it as a winning issue for the White House and Democrats. 

Leading up to the midterms last fall, Biden repeatedly tied the GOP to a proposal from Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) to sunset all federal legislation after five years to argue the party wanted to put Social Security and Medicare on the chopping block.

The president during his State of the Union address drew boos and jeers from some GOP lawmakers in attendance when he claimed they were threatening Social Security and Medicare, a move he vowed to veto. When Biden’s call to protect those programs drew bipartisan applause, he suggested there was unanimous agreement on the issue.

“So tonight, let’s all agree — and we apparently are — let’s stand up for seniors,” Biden said Tuesday. “Stand up and show them we will not cut Social Security. We will not cut Medicare.”

The president on Thursday will travel to Florida to further highlight the contrast between Democrats and Republicans on Social Security and Medicare benefits, the White House said.

Tags andrew bates Biden Joe Biden medicare Mike Lee Mike Lee social security State of the Union

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