Congressional Democrats are ratcheting up their attacks on Republicans for proposing cuts to Social Security and Medicare, hoping the issue will resonate with voters in the midterm elections.
Rep. Bruce Braley, the Iowa Democrat running for one of the most contested Senate seats, stressed his commitment Thursday to protecting the entitlement programs.
“Keep your hands off Social Security and Medicare—we need to strengthen them, not destroy them through risky Tea Party schemes,” Braley said at a rally sponsored by the country’s biggest labor unions.
Few Republicans in hotly contested races have been openly running on Wisconsin Republican Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget, but Democrats are determined to hold the party accountable for backing it.
Ryan’s budget, which passed the GOP-led House of Representatives, would effectively turn Medicare in a voucher program by replacing defined benefits with premium support. Ryan has also supported private accounts for Social Security, price-indexing benefits, and raising the retirement age in past budgets, though such reforms weren’t included in his latest budget.
Democrats have done backflips to tie Braley's opponent, GOP state Sen. Joni Ernst, to Ryan’s plan in attack ads, on the basis that she refused to support a symbolic resolution in the Iowa Statehouse denouncing Ryan’s Medicare and Medicaid reforms.
In fact, both Democrats and Republicans insist that their political opponents are the ones trying to gut the broadly popular entitlement programs.
In Iowa, Braley and Ernst have accused each other of trying to gut Social Security. Ernst insists that Braley wants to raise the Medicare age and points to an old interview in which he indicates his willingness to consider the possibility, according to The Des Moines Register. In Arkansas, Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS has similarly attacked incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor for wanting to raise the retirement age; Republicans have also attacked Obamacare for making cuts to Medicare.
Braley seemed to respond directly to such attacks at Thursday’s event. “It’s not raising the retirement age—that’s why I have voted for the last four Congresses to not raise the retirement age for Social Security and Medicare,” he said. Instead, Braley said he wanted to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 and create new jobs through infrastructure spending—both core Democratic priorities—to shore up the entitlements’ finances.
Braley has previously attacked Ernst for embracing the privatization of Social Security; Ernst says that she’s simply considering it as an option and says she would protect current retirees’ benefits, according to the Register. But when msnbc asked Braley where he believes Ernst stands and what she would do in Congress, he declined to respond, and an aide cited his need to get to a House vote.
Democrats have also raised the ire of progressives by backing entitlement cuts. President Obama proposed using a different inflation index for Social Security that would ultimately cut benefits in the long term, but backed off after the prospect of a grand bargain for deficit reduction died on Capitol Hill.
Minnesota Democratic Rep. Keith Ellison, head of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, credited activists for convincing the White House to back off the cuts. But Democrats and their outside allies focused their ire on Republicans, insisting the whole party is synonymous with entitlement cuts.
For Republicans, “the answer is just push those costs off on the families that are already struggling,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren said at Thursday’s rally. She went on to laud Social Security and called for an expansion, not a cut, to the program. “We built it together, we made promises to ourselves and to each other. And if Republicans want to break those promises, we are here to say, we will fight you ever inch of the way,” she concluded.
Democrats are praying that message will draw voters to their side.
“If we want to keep Medicare and Social Security, what we do have to do in November?” Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, asked the union members and activists at the rally.
“Vote!” the crowd shouted.
“And who do have to vote for?” Weingarten continued.
“Democrats!” the crowd cheered.