sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), a staunch Senate ally of former President Trump, faces new uncertainty in his re-election race after he spoke in a podcast last week that Social Security and health care should be classified as discretionary spending, with approval from the United States. Congress to set their budget each year.
Johnson was on his way to re-election in a favorable political climate for Republicans, who expected to take control of the House and possibly the Senate.
But now Johnson is on the defensive, as Democrats have political ammunition to claim he wants to scrap the two popular rights programs, a strategy they used effectively against Republicans in the past.
Johnson has been in hot water before for making provocative remarks about conservative media, most notably when he said he didn’t feel threatened by protesters storming the Capitol on January 6, 2021 because he believed that “those were people who loved this. holding the country’ while adding that he would have been ‘concerned’ if they were Black Lives Matter protesters instead.
Now Johnson is being asked to defend his comments on the podcast “The Regular Joe Show,” calling on Congress to review and approve annual Medicare and Social Security budgets, rather than automatically increasing them, which they do as mandatory spending programs.
Johnson doubles down on his audacious position, stating that if Social Security and health care are left on autopilot, they will eventually run out of money.
And he says he’s advocated putting discretionary Medicare and Social Security programs on an annual budget for years.
“I’ve been saying for as long as I’ve been here that we have to transfer everything, put everything on the budget, so we have to think about it every year. I’ve said that consistently, it’s nothing new,” he said. “I want to save it, I want to fix it. Right now we are whistling past the graveyard.”
For example, the Medicare Hospital Insurance Trust Fund will go bankrupt in 2028.
Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (DN.Y.) and Sen. Joe Manchin (DW.Va.) last month discussed higher taxes on people earning more than $400,000 annually in pass-through revenue to extend hospital fund solvency through 2031, but the talks didn’t go through.
Johnson said it is a “lie” and a “distortion” that he wants to put the programs on the “chop block” as the Democrats claim.
“I never said that, I didn’t infer that in any way. What I would like to do is save the programs and the only way to save the programs is to watch them,” he said.
He says Congress should look at the solvency of the programs over the next decade and beyond rather than let them run into debt.
Democrats say this is the political gift they needed to give momentum in a challenging Senate race that Johnson preferred to win.
Wisconsin Senator Tammy Baldwin (D) said Johnson stepped on a political landmine.
“These are the programs that have lifted several generations of seniors out of poverty,” she said.
Baldwin noted that Johnson told Breitbart News Daily in an interview earlier this year that he had a 12-point plan unveiled by fellow Republican Senator Rick Scott (Fla.) calling for all federal legislation to expire after five years. as “a positive thing”. ”
Johnson said he agreed with “most”.
“He didn’t just make those references,” Baldwin said, referring to the podcast “The Regular Joe Show.” “But when Rick Scott put out his Republican agenda, scrapping them both and starting over, Senator Johnson had expressed his support for it.”
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) tried to link Johnson’s comments to Republican House candidates.
“Putting Social Security and health care on the chopping block every year is not a way to help working families — it’s a way to destroy them. Unfortunately, most House Republicans agree with Senator Johnson,” Pelosi’s office said on its blog. .
Former Fox News anchor Chris Wallace called Johnson’s comments “suicidal politics.”
Ben Nuckels, a Wisconsin-based Democratic strategist, said Johnson had taken the “third track” of American politics by calling for an annual congressional review of Social Security and health care spending.
“Ron Johnson never misses an opportunity to put his foot in his mouth. Johnson opened this big new line of attack on his radical, extreme stances on Social Security that voters 55 and older will be well aware of,” he said.
Nuckels predicted that campaign attacks targeting Johnson’s comments about Social Security and Medicare will resonate with older voters, who tend to come to the polls more reliably in midterm election years.
“If you have 60 to 65 percent of voters over 50, that’s going to be a big problem for him,” he said. “Johnson grabbed the third rail with both hands.”
A Republican Senate strategist said Johnson’s latest comments on Social Security and Medicare “are not good from a campaign perspective.”
But the source pointed out that Johnson still has a good chance of winning reelection, as President Biden’s approval rating has dropped in Wisconsin and his Democratic opponent, Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes, is “a weak candidate.”
“I’m not worried about Johnson,” the quarterback said. “Democrats will have to spend money in other races to protect the incumbents, so that could be enough to put Ron John over the top.”
Other Senate Republicans are distancing themselves from Johnson’s call for Congress to have more discretionary power over health care and Social Security spending.
Senate Republican Whip John Thune (SD) said he didn’t know of any other Republicans looking to turn Social Security and Medicare into discretionary spending.
“I haven’t heard other members talk about that,” he said. “I think the assumption has always been that these are programs, if you look at total federal spending, that are part of mandatory [spending.] They are considered rights. …If you qualify and you qualify, you get the benefits.”
One notable exception is Scott, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, who called for all federal legislation to be ended within five years as part of his “Rescue America Plan.”
“If a law is worth keeping, Congress can pass it again,” Scott said.
Democrats immediately attacked Scott, trying to tie his plan to Republicans running for Senate and House, a tactic somewhat facilitated by Scott’s presidency of the Senate Republican campaign arm.
The political risk that Scott’s plan posed for Republican Senate candidates led Republican leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) to reprimand Scott at a leadership meeting earlier this year.
McConnell told reporters he, not the Florida senator, would set the agenda if Republicans took over the majority.
“We will not have as part of our agenda a bill that raises taxes on half the American people and drops Social Security and Medicare within five years. That won’t be part of the Republican Senate majority agenda,” McConnell said in March.