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Social Security

Ron Johnson

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Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) has suggested that he believes federal programs like Medicare and Social Security should be included in annual budget discussions; an initiative that could ultimately threaten to impact the lives of millions of benefit recipients.

On Tuesday, August 2, the Republican lawmaker made his remarks during an appearance on "The Regular Joe Show." During the discussion, show host Joe Giganti asked Johnson about the PACT Act — which was passed to provide aid for veterans who suffered from exposure to toxic burn pits — as well as the debates surrounding discretionary and mandatory spending.

The Wisconsin lawmaker, who is currently campaigning for a third Senate term, admitted that he seeks to shift the full federal budget toward discretionary spending. The proposed change would include Social Security and Medicare, programs he believes need to be re-evaluated and restructured.

"Defense spending has always been discretionary," Johnson said. "VA spending is discretionary. What's mandatory are things like Social Security and Medicare. If you qualify for the entitlement you just get it no matter what the cost. And our problem in this country is that more than 70 percent of our federal budget, of our federal spending, is all mandatory spending. It's on automatic pilot. It never ... you just don't do proper oversight. You don't get in there and fix the programs going bankrupt. It's just on automatic pilot.

"What we ought to be doing is we ought to turn everything into discretionary spending so that it's all evaluated so that we can fix problems or fix programs that are broken that are going to be going bankrupt," he said.

Johnson also insisted that "as long as things are on automatic pilot we just continue to pile up debt, mortgage our kids' future, this massive debt burden, combined with this massive deficit spending that sparked this inflation that's wiping out people's wage gains, making it impossible for them to make ends meet. Again, this didn't just happen."

"The fact that you're struggling economically it's because of Democrat governance and Democrat policies in the federal government that is spending way more money than it should and doing things that never was even envisioned by our founding fathers to be doing."

However, Johnson's Democratic election opponent, Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes (D), argues otherwise. In a new statement, he pushed back against Johnson's remarks criticizing him for his stance.

“Self-serving, multimillionaire senator Ron Johnson wants to strip working people of the Social Security and Medicare they’ve earned. Wisconsinites pay into Social Security through a lifetime of hard work, and they’re counting on this program and Medicare – but Ron Johnson just doesn't care,” Barnes said in a statement.

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre also offered her perspective via Twitter. "While [POTUS] and congressional Democrats fight for the Inflation Reduction Act, which would let Medicare negotiate lower drug prices, congressional Republicans like @SenRonJohnson want to put Medicare on the chopping block. That would devastate families."

Despite his remarks, Johnson's spokesperson Alexa Henning has also responded to the backlash insisting the Republican lawmaker seeks to keep both programs financially stable.

"The Senator’s point was that without fiscal discipline and oversight typically found with discretionary spending, Congress has allowed the guaranteed benefits for programs like Social Security and Medicare to be threatened," Henning said in a statement.

"This must be addressed by Congress taking its responsibilities seriously to ensure that seniors don’t need to question whether the programs they depend on remain solvent. As he said, we need a process to save these programs and no one is doing anything to save them long-term. We just continue piling up debt, mortgaging our children's future, and putting these programs at risk."

Reprinted with permission from Alternet.

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J.D. Vance

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Ohio Republican nominee J.D. Vance is framing himself in his campaign for Senate as an opponent of powerful "elites."

Meanwhile, in 2011 the author and venture capitalist embraced a controversial GOP budget proposal that would have slashed entitlement protections for poorer and older Americans, ending both Medicare and Medicaid as we know them while cutting taxes for himself and other wealthy elites.

In his writings, Vance did not openly use terms like "Medicare cuts," but embraced words like "reform" and "trim" in discussing the entitlement programs used by millions.

In a column published on April 5, 2011, on the FrumForum, a group blog edited by former George W. Bush speechwriter David Frum that described itself as "dedicated to the modernization and renewal of the Republican Party and conservative movement," Vance, under a previous surname taken from a stepfather, praised a budget proposal about to be released by then-House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan (R-WI).

Ryan's proposed budget called for trillions of dollars to be cut from entitlement programs over a decade: repeal of the Affordable Care Act, the program commonly known as Obamacare that provides health insurance coverage for millions of Americans; transformation of Medicaid into a program funded through limited lump-sum grants to states, which would then manage it; and conversion of Medicare into a capped voucher program.

Robert Greenstein, president of the progressive-leaning nonprofit Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, said at the time that Ryan's proposal was "a dramatic reverse-Robin-Hood approach that gets the lion's share of its budget cuts from programs for low-income Americans — the politically and economically weakest group in America and the politically safest group for Ryan to target— even as it bestows extremely large tax cuts on the wealthiest Americans."

"The plan contains $1.4 trillion in Medicaid cuts over ten years (which includes repeal of the health reform law’s Medicaid expansion); large cuts in food stamps, low-income housing, Pell Grants, and other programs for people with limited incomes; and repeal of the health reform law’s subsidies to help low- and moderate-income people purchase health insurance," Greenstein wrote.

Vance wrote of the proposal, "Early reports suggest that along with serious changes to Social Security and Medicare, the budget will trim nearly $4 trillion from the 10-year budget deficit. I don't know how the Left will react, but I'm confident that they'll overreact. And I'm hoping that when the dust settles, we're having a more intelligent conversation about spending cuts than we've had during my lifetime."

Vance added, "The way forward is as obvious as it is politically difficult: streamline the tax code, reform current entitlements and avoid enacting new ones."

On September 7 of that year, he authored a post endorsing former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination and explicitly praising him for supporting Ryan's budget and entitlement cuts.

"As governor, he enacted free-market health care reforms, balanced the budget, and thus far is the most public advocate of the Ryan plan to reduce long-term entitlement spending," Vance wrote. He dismissed another Republican candidate, then-Texas Gov. Rick Perry, as "a man with no serious plan to curb entitlement spending."

In a May 2022 column published in The Atlantic, Frum noted that in his 2011 collaborations with Vance, the Ohio Senate candidatee "endorsed cuts to the future growth of Medicare and Social Security" and lamented his subsequent evolution to full-throated support for former President Donald Trump.

"In a reversal of the usual political trajectory, Vance's writing and speaking have edged angrier and uglier as he has gained success and prominence," Frum wrote.

A Vance campaign spokesperson did not immediately respond to an inquiry for this story.

While it is unclear whether he still backs massive entitlement cuts, as a candidate in 2022 Vance has criticized other government spending.

"The Biden administration has spent billions and billions of dollars on things we don't need," he says in the section of his campaign issues page focused on "spending and inflation."

Columnist Ben Burgis noted in an opinion piece published by the Daily Beast in May Vance's opposition to universal child care, debt-free college, and a living minimum wage.

Former President Trump, who has endorsed Vance, has a record of presenting himself as a defender of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid when it suits him.

As a 2016 presidential candidate, he said that he alone could preserve the entitlement programs without any cuts.

"Every Republican wants to do a big number on Social Security. They want to do it on Medicare, they want to do it on Medicaid," Trump said in an April 2015 address just before kicking off his White House bid. "And we can't do that. And it's not fair to the people that have been paying in for years."

"I was the first & only potential GOP candidate to state there will be no cuts to Social Security, Medicare & Medicaid," he tweeted the following month.

As with most of his major campaign pledges, Trump abandoned his promise when he was president and proposed cuts to the entitlement programs in January 2020.

Republicans across the country continue to talk up ways to destroy longstanding entitlements.

Arizona Republican Senate candidate Jim Lamon is running on a proposal to "save Social Security" by privatizing the program and raising the age at which people can access their benefits. Instead of every worker contributing to Social Security and getting a guaranteed payout at retirement or disability, Lamon proposes switching to a government-endorsed 401(k) pension account system as an "option for every worker to enjoy the benefit from investment in the US economy while also creating a tangible, inheritable asset for their children, instead of the government-controlled trust fund model."

Last month Blake Masters, the front-runner in the Republican primary for Senate in Arizona, told the right-wing group FreedomWorks, "Maybe we should privatize Social Security, right? Private retirement accounts, get the government out of it."

New Hampshire Republican Senate candidate Kevin Smith has also called for Social Security to be gradually transitioned "from a defined benefit plan to a defined contribution plan."

National Republican Senatorial Committee Chair Rick Scott, the man charged with winning back a Republican majority in the Senate, has proposed a controversial package of reforms that includes letting Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare, and every other federal program automatically expire every five years and require Congress to extend them. The Florida Republican said in March that it was the best way to force the nation "to stop and take the time to preserve those programs."

Reprinted with permission from American Independent.