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Senator Kennedy accuses Biden of demagoguing Social Security and Medicare

By Sarah May
|
March 13, 2023

Addressing the ongoing political debate about the future solvency of Social Security and Medicare this weekend, Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) took issue with President Joe Biden for exacerbating hostilities and deciding to, as the lawmaker put it, “demagogue” the issue during his recent State of the Union address, as The Hill reports.

Kennedy's comments came during an appearance on Fox News Sunday with host Shannon Bream, and he decried Biden's tactic of painting anyone interested in having tough conversations about solutions to the challenges facing the massive entitlement programs as a villain.

Kennedy blasts Biden

Bream broached the topic of Social Security and Medicare by noting that “trustees of these programs tell us, 10 to 15 years, they'll be insolvent” and asking, “[s]hould you be having a public conversation about those things?”

Kennedy replied, “Now, Medicare is going to start getting in trouble financially in 2028. Social Security in 2035, I think. We should be taking now how to make sure that those programs are solvent.”

“The problem is that President Biden in his State of the Union address decided to demagogue the issue. We all saw it,” He basically said, if you talk, talk – speaking to Republicans – if you talk about Social Security or Medicare, I'm going to call you a mean, bad person,” Kennedy said. “And that just took the issue off the table when the president decided to demagogue it.”

“I thought it was a very immature thing to do,” the Louisiana Republican added, referencing Biden's State of the Union assertion that “some Republicans want Social Security and Medicare to sunset,” which was a slap at a proposal from Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL) that all federal legislation “sunset” every five years – one he later claimed was not meant to include the two entitlement programs mentioned by the president.

Retirement age change floated

Pressing Kennedy on what sorts of discussions he thinks might prove fruitful, Bream asked, “So, you think there needs to be conversations that, about something, whether it's changing the age for people who are not yet paying into these benefits, future changes, current changes?”

The outspoken lawmaker answered, “Well, of course we ought to talk about it. I mean, the life expectancy of the average American right now is about 77 years old. For people who are in their 20s, their life expectancy will probably be 85 to 90.”

“Does it really make sense to allow someone who's in their 20s today to retire at 62? Those are [the] kind of things that we should talk about,” Kennedy continued.

Lamenting the current state of play on the topic, the senator added, “There are a lot of things we could talk about, but President Biden has taken that issue totally off the table. He says he has fixed it in his budget, and that's nonsense. That's nonsense on a stick.”

Behind-the-scenes talks

Despite what Kennedy describes as Biden's efforts to render Social Security reform an untouchable topic, The Hill reported separately that a bipartisan group of senators has been collaborating on possible changes to the program for quite some time.

The outlet noted that while concrete details of negotiations have yet to fully emerge, some reporting has suggested that retirement age adjustments are indeed under consideration.

Though the Washington Examiner indicated that talks have been taking place for roughly two years but assumed renewed urgency in recent weeks, after the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) cautioned that the Social Security trust fund could become insolvent as soon as 2033, unless changes to the existing scheme are made.

To one of Kennedy's key points, preliminary reporting has suggested that a group of Democrats and Republicans has given serious thought to increasing the retirement age to 70, which would represent an upward adjustment from the current age of 67 for individuals born after 1960.

Political hurdles persist

As many of those involved in discussions over the future of Social Security have noted, while the policy specifics are complicated in their own right, it is often the politics of the issue that stand in the way of real progress, a take Kennedy seemed to echo.

Speaking to Politico on the subject, Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) – a participant in the aforementioned bipartisan talks – characterized the task of making any noteworthy changes to Social Security as “one of the most difficult things for Congress to do.”

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) concurred, saying, “Right now it's not a welcoming context for a bipartisan solution with big changes.”

In seeming agreement with the sentiments expressed by Kennedy is Sen. Mike Rounds (R-SD), who said of the historic air of inviolability surrounding Social Security, “It's a really easy third rail to use on both sides of the aisle, if you want to go after an opponent,” and despite the peril such an approach puts on the durability of a program upon which millions rely, it appears to the Louisiana lawmaker that Biden intends to continue using it as a political cudgel for as long as possible.