Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell probably thought he’d put the matter to rest. After President Joe Biden used his State of the Union address to target Republican Sen. Rick Scott’s plan on entitlements, the Kentucky Republican effectively told the political world not to take his Florida colleague’s vision too seriously.
“It’s just a bad idea,” McConnell said last week, referring to Scott’s plan to sunset programs like Social Security and Medicare every five years. “I think it will be a challenge for [Scott] to deal with this in his own re-election in Florida, a state with more elderly people than any other state in America.”
Republican Sen. Mike Rounds of South Dakota said soon after that “the vast majority” of GOP senators prefer a “different direction” than Scott’s plan.
The far-right Floridian could take the hint and change the subject, but apparently thinks he can talk his way out of this.
The day after the State of the Union address, Scott accused Biden of lying, before undermining his position and offering fresh evidence that the president’s claims were true. Yesterday, the GOP senator appeared on Fox News and continued to endorse the plan that much of his party hates:
“I said [in my policy blueprint] that we ought to review programs every five years. They said somehow that’s a ‘cut.’ Well, you know what? If we, what do we do on defense? There’s no 40-year plan for defense. There’s no hundred-year plan for defense. Every year we go through the defense budget. So if you don’t support hundred-year plan for defense, you must be cutting defense every year.”
First, Social Security and Medicare are qualitatively different from military spending for reasons that should be obvious: Officials can make actuarial estimates about social insurance programs and future needs, while national security threats are constantly changing and evolving.
What's more, Social Security and Medicare provide earned benefits to which Americans are legally entitled. The defense budget is something else entirely.
Second, no one said Scott’s plan to sunset Social Security and Medicare every five years necessarily constitutes a “cut” to the programs. What Democrats — and Republicans — have said is that subjecting Social Security and Medicare to such a process needlessly puts the programs at risk for no reason. Scott is pushing back against an argument that his critics haven’t made.
“Instead of making the wealthy pay their fair share, some Republicans, some Republicans, want Medicare and Social Security to sunset,” the president said, referring to the Floridian’s far-right plan. Scott, in response, has now repeatedly proven Biden right, insisting that he really does want Medicare and Social Security to sunset every five years.
He’s had plenty of opportunities to exempt the social insurance programs from his agenda, but instead, Scott keeps reemphasizing how entirely accurate his critics have been in describing his plan.
Finally, let’s not brush past the fact that Scott isn’t just complaining about Democratic criticisms that he keeps admitting are accurate, he’s also pushing back against his ostensible GOP allies who desperately want him to stop talking about his unpopular agenda.
I’m mindful of the fact that Florida has become an unmistakable red state, and the incumbent senator will be favored to prevail next year, no matter what he says or does between now and Election Day 2024. But it also seems Scott is eager to test those limits, pushing misguided ideas that both parties reject with equal enthusiasm.