Biden once offered budget bill strikingly similar to Rick Scott plan
President Biden as a first-term senator in 1975 introduced a bill that would have limited budget authority for all federal programs to between four and six years, which experts say would have required new legislation to fund Medicare, Social Security and other federal programs.
The Biden measure bore striking similarities to the plan Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) unveiled in 2022 to sunset all federal legislation after five years — which is now at the center of a political firestorm.
In his State of the Union address on Tuesday, Biden challenged Republicans on those issues, making a veiled reference to the Scott plan by saying that some in the GOP “want Medicare and Social Security to sunset.”
“It is being proposed by individuals. I’m politely not naming them, but it’s being proposed by some of you,” Biden said.
Republicans audibly jeered Biden over the remarks, leading the president to say he was happy to see “conversion” on the issue.
Scott on Wednesday put the spotlight on Biden’s bill from decades ago to defend his proposal, which has become a regular target of Democratic attacks.
“I always wondered why President Biden was so insistent on lying to attack me. Now we know: he’s a hypocrite with a guilty conscience,” Scott said. “He actually did what he is falsely accusing me of doing. I don’t have a bill to sunset Medicare and Social Security, but Joe Biden did.”
The 12-point plan Scott introduced last year says all federal legislation should sunset in five years and that “if a law is worth keeping, Congress can pass it again.”
The Biden proposal dating back to 1975 came when President Ford was in office and Biden, now 80, was 32 years old.
In a floor speech the day he introduced his bill, then-Sen. Biden called for broadly reviewing every federal program to weed out wasteful spending.
“One thing that we must do is to begin reviewing existing programs to determine whether they are still effective and whether they are worth the money that we are putting in them. We must eliminate the wasteful ones,” he said.
“This bill limits to four years the length of any spending authorization for a program. Furthermore, it requires that each committee make a detailed study of the program before renewing it for another four-year period,” he explained to colleagues.
Biden argued that many federal programs were operating on autopilot.
“One thing that we have all observed is that once a federal program gets started, it is very difficult to stop it, or even change its emphasis, regardless of its performance in the past,” he said.
The Biden of today has been a loud opponent of making changes to Social Security and Medicare and regularly criticizes Republicans, given the Scott plan.
Asked about Biden’s nearly 50-year-old proposal, White House spokesman Andrew Bates focused on the present, saying the president had made it clear Tuesday night that he doesn’t support cuts to Social Security and Medicare. Bates then noted that Scott was continuing to push his proposal from last year.
“Last night, President Biden said, ‘Stand up and show [seniors] we will not cut Social Security. We will not cut Medicare.’ This morning, Rick Scott quadrupled down on his plan, which fellow Republicans and fact checkers have verified would sunset both programs,” he said, referring to a statement Scott released Wednesday morning responding to Biden’s address to Congress.
Bates said Scott “compounded that attack on earned benefits” by advocating for the repeal of the Inflation Reduction Act, legislation passed last year that allows Medicare to negotiate lower prescription drug prices.
Scott argues that giving the federal government the power to negotiate lower drug prices is in effect a cut to Medicare, predicting it will stifle innovation in the pharmaceutical industry by cutting the flow of money to drug companies.
Scott’s plan has been divisive among Republicans.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) rebuked Scott for the proposal, saying in March that “we will not have as part of our agenda a bill that raises taxes on half the American people, and sunsets Social Security and Medicare within five years.”
He and Scott have since feuded, with the Florida Republican challenging McConnell’s leadership and the GOP leader booting Scott from a Senate committee.
The idea of giving Congress a chance to review automatic federal spending was a popular one in Washington at the time Biden offered his proposal, according to James Dyer, who was a staffer when Biden introduced his bill.
There was “broad-based sentiment” at the time “that Congress had lost control — not so much of discretionary spending” but with mandatory spending on programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, said Dyer, the former Republican staff director of the House Appropriations Committee.
Dyer noted that Social Security and Medicare are not specifically referenced in Biden’s legislative text but concluded that “after reading it, I believe it would apply to all mandatory” spending programs.
“Based on my own time in that Congress, I’m assuming what he was doing was trying to get in the game regarding congressional control of mandatory spending because that was the big issue that led to the creation of the Budget Impoundment and Control Act,” he said, citing the landmark bill that established Congress’s modern budget process.
One Democratic budget expert who requested anonymity to comment on Biden’s bill said it would more likely apply to mandatory than discretionary spending programs, for which Congress provides new funding each year in the annual appropriations bills. That means it would have applied to Social Security and Medicare.
Biden’s bill would have shut off permanent authorizations for programs ranging from Medicare and Social Security to social services block grants, Medicaid and food stamps.
Bill Hoagland, a senior vice president at the Bipartisan Policy Center and a former Republican director of the Senate Budget Committee, said the Biden bill can be open to different interpretations in terms of whether it would apply to Social Security and Medicare because “it is poorly written.”
He said “a case can be made that it does apply” to Social Security, Medicare and other mandatory programs.
Hoagland noted that unlike discretionary spending, which can take place without being authorized, all mandatory spending requires budget authority.
“It’s permanent, it’s indefinite, it’s been created in the authorizing legislation. It’s already authorized and appropriated,” he said of mandatory spending programs such as Social Security.
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