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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Social Security

Sen. Rick Scott

In Washington, acrimonious public disagreements among congressional leaders of the same party are unusual, which was why reporters took note not long ago when Sen. Mitch McConnell publicly spanked Sen. Rick Scott for what he considered an act of monumental stupidity.

What infuriated the Senate minority leader, who yearns above all to become the majority leader again, was Scott's unveiling of a 60-page "plan" describing what the Republicans will do if and when their party regains the majority. As chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, Scott's job is to ensure victory in the November midterm by doling out tens of millions to candidates.

But McConnell saw Scott's plan as the equivalent of a loud emission of noxious gas: unpleasant, unhelpful, and very much to be avoided. McConnell has steadfastly refused to state what Republicans would do if they win the Senate; now, the lunkhead Rick Scott has let the cat out of the bag.

Especially irksome to McConnell were two aspects of Scott's blueprint. "Let me tell you what would not be part of our agenda," snapped McConnell. "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. That will not be part of the Republican Senate majority agenda."

Of course, McConnell just doesn't want to tell voters what his party will do, because their ideas are deeply unpopular and always get them in trouble, like when Newt Gingrich proposed privatizing Medicare and former President George W. Bush proposed privatizing Social Security.

Scott's scheme to raise income taxes on most households struck McConnell as politically insane, and so did the plan's endorsement of allowing "all federal legislation," including Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, to simply expire within five years.

Scott, for his part, has portrayed himself as a "bold" visionary victimized by conventional thinkers. Polling, however, indicates that the Scott scheme is profoundly unpopular among all voters, including Republicans, with majorities north of 65% rejecting it. No more than 15% like it.

So, the Florida senator has simply lied since then.

"No one that I know of wants to sunset Medicare or Social Security," he insists, although that's exactly what his plan urges.Perhaps McConnell was too polite to mention the other utterly politically crazy aspect of the Scott proposal: namely, the likelihood that attacking Medicare and Medicaid will remind America about the massive health care fraud underlying Rick Scott's enormous personal fortune, estimated at $300 million.

Beginning in 1987, Scott founded and built Columbia/HCA, a hospital chain that included hundreds of health care providers across multiple states and engorged itself on billions in Medicare and Medicaid fees. Unfortunately, this lucrative business involved truly gigantic levels of fraud, which by early 1997 drew the attention of federal investigators. Columbia/HCA illegally scammed billions of dollars intended for patient care, perpetrating what remains the biggest fraud on government ever by any health care institution.

The company's board forced Scott to resign within months after the federal investigation became public. He pleaded ignorance, barely escaped indictment and walked away with vast wealth. He claims to have accepted "responsibility," although he consistently blamed others, adding piously that the experience "made me a better leader."

Somehow, Florida's voters narrowly elected him governor in 2010 and then to the U.S. Senate in 2018. The words of his 2010 primary opponent Bill McCollum, a former Navy prosecutor and Florida attorney general, still ring true. During the campaign McCollum denounced Scott as "the disgraced former CEO of Columbia/HCA who is inseparably associated with one of the most massive Medicare fraud schemes in American history."

Scott's sordid narrative raises an obvious question. How did this come to pass? We know that Florida voters have a habit of electing some truly awful politicians, and that Scott spent $60 million to win his first election. We know that Republican leaders in Washington have no problem with fraud or corruption, so long as it accrues to their own power. Just ask "Moscow Mitch," who was in the tank for Oleg Deripaska, a sanctioned Russian oligarch with Kentucky investments. We know that the Republican concern for ensuring the fairness and stability of our health care system is nil, given their long war against Medicare and, more recently, the Affordable Care Act. Now, they won't even act to reduce the cost of lifesaving insulin.

Voters should be aware that this corporate malefactor is in charge of handing out the big campaign bucks from the Senate Republican campaign — and that he aims to destroy the nation's most successful and popular domestic programs. Somebody better tell them before November. Buyer beware.

To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

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Jim Lamon

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.Arizona Republican Senate candidate Jim Lamon has repeatedly said he wants to save and preserve Social Security. But his own campaign website reveals that he aims to raise the program's eligibility age and to privatize it, leaving millions of Americans to fend for themselves.

In a video message on his website, Lamon claims, "Social Security is headed for a train wreck, for bankruptcy. Politicians who kick the can down the road, we must save Social Security. I intend to be bold in the U.S. Senate to make it happen."

"So we got to get the priorities: national defense, internal security, border control, our law enforcement agencies, those people who can't provide for themselves mentally, physically, and also, of course, Social Security, Medicare," he said in a November radio appearance with Arizona talk show host Jeff Oravits.

But his campaign policy page reveals that his idea of saving Social Security is actually making significant cuts to the program and privatizing it for people who are not yet retired.

After blaming the "deterioration" of the 87-year-old entitlement program on China and abortion, Lamon calls for a series "fundamental systemic improvements."

First, he says, America must "gradually increase the benefits access age" because "47% of people on Social Security are younger than 65; the intent was never to support people still well able to work."

According to the Social Security Administration, workers can access benefits if they are at least 62 years old, disabled, or blind. Dependent family members can also receive benefits in some circumstances. Lamon's plan would force those people to work longer to receive the benefits they are entitled to receive.

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

Lamon also calls for "universal savings accounts" that would allow individuals in invest their money in risky retirement funds rather than guaranteed government retirement benefits. He calls this 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."

That would turn Social Security from a pension program into a government-endorsed 401(K) plan. Under then-President George W. Bush in the early 2000s and again in 2018, Republicans unsuccessfully pushed similar privatization schemes.

Experts say a plan like this would benefit the wealthiest Americans and put millions of future retirees at the mercy of the stock market. Someone who put their Social Security funds into a bad investment could be left with nothing, leading to exactly the sort of poverty for senior citizens that the program was designed to end.

In a 1997 article, Brookings Institution economist Henry Aaron wrote that privatizing Social Security was "a bad idea whose time will never come."

"It is far and away the most important U.S. antipoverty program," Aaron wrote of the existing system. "Privatization is a bad idea because it places risks on individual workers that they should not be expected to shoulder and that Social Security now spreads broadly among all workers. It would create costly and needless administrative burdens."

Polls show little support for what Lamon wants to do.

An August 2020 survey by AARP found that 96% of American adults said Social Security was either the most important program or one of the most important programs the government operates.

Another poll that month, conducted by Data for Progress, found 54% of likely voters ranked "preventing cuts to Social Security benefits" as their most important issue for the 2020 election.

Lamon has also been open about his desire to cut Social Security and other entitlement programs.

In a January appearance on the right-wing Charlie Kirk Show, he said that he would preserve the programs for those who already rely on Social Security and Medicare, but "after that, Charlie, everything's on the table" for cuts. "And I intend to be brutal," he promised.

In a radio interview that month on Tucson radio station KVOI's Inside Track, Lamon endorsed entitlement cuts to balance the federal budget, saying, "'Oh Jim, are you going to take those?' You're damn right, because that's where the money is."

After Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL), the chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, released his party's "Rescue America" plan, which includes letting Social Security and Medicare expire every five years and be subject to reapproval by the Congress, Lamon embraced the package. He joked to supporters in March that it appeared Scott could have plagiarized the plan from his own website, claiming, "Looks awfully familiar!"

While Republicans have long wanted to dismantle Social Security and other government entitlement programs, in 2016 candidate Donald Trump ran on a promise to preserve the programs without cuts.

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

"I'm not going to cut Social Security like every other Republican and I'm not going to cut Medicare or Medicaid," he reaffirmed in May 2015.

As he did with most of his major campaign promises, Trump abandoned this pledge, vowing in January 2020 that he would make major cuts to the social safety net "toward the end of the year" because he had such a great economy.

Lamon was not only a strong Trump supporter; he also fraudulently pretended to be an elector for Trump in the Electoral College after President Joe Biden won the presidential election in Arizona in 2020.

Lamon has a complicated relationship with government programs. In a March fundraising email, he decried COVID-19 pandemic relief legislation, including the Paycheck Protection Program that provided billions in forgivable loans to businesses, as a "socialist spending binge." But DEPCOM Power, an energy company he founded and ran at the time, took $2.6 million in funds from that very program in May 2020.

Recent polling by RealClearPolitics shows Lamon and state Attorney General Mark Brnovich as front-runners for the GOP nomination for Senate, with venture capitalist Blake Masters close behind.

The winner will face incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly on Nov. 8.

Kelly has pledged not to dismantle entitlement programs, saying in a 2020 ad, "I've got a message for Arizonans: I will protect Social Security and Medicare. Period."

Reprinted with permission from American Independent.