Joe Biden’s State of the Union has a viral moment where the president defends Social Security over boos from Republicans. It showed the continuing potency of that issue.
In the midterm elections last fall, Social Security was an issue with more political salience than it’s had in many years.
Some Republicans implied that they wanted to change how Social Security is funded.
At the same time, Sen. Rick Scott, head of the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, pushed a messaging document that stated all federal legislation must sunset after five years.
Joe Biden and That Social Security Moment
In the State of the Union address Tuesday, Joe Biden addressed Social Security again in the context of the debt ceiling showdown that is set to take place later this year and in a way that referenced the 2022 Rick Scott plan. And it led to the most viral moment of the speech.
“Some of my Republican friends want to take the economy hostage unless I agree to their economic plans. All of you at home should know what their plans are. Instead of making the wealthy pay their fair share, some Republicans want Medicare and Social Security to sunset every five years,” Biden said in the White House transcript of the speech.
“Anybody who doubts it, contact my office, I’ll give you a copy of the proposal,” Biden said in remarks that were not part of this prepared text.
At that point, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) could be seen out of her seat jawing at the president.
“I’m glad to see, I enjoy conversion,” Biden said, once again departing from his prepared remarks, adding that he doesn’t believe most Republicans actually favor cutting those programs.
“That means if Congress doesn’t vote to keep them, those programs will go away. Other Republicans say if we don’t cut Social Security and Medicare, they’ll let America default on its debt for the first time in our history. I won’t let that happen. Social Security and Medicare are a lifeline for millions of seniors,” Biden’s prepared text said.
Following the boos and some cheers from his own side, Joe Biden once again departed from his text.
“So folks, as we all apparently agree. Social Security and Medicare is off the books now, right?” Joe Biden added, leading to a standing ovation from the Democratic side of the chamber.
“Americans have been paying into them with every single paycheck since they started working,” Biden’s prepared remarks said. “So tonight, let’s all agree to stand up for seniors. Stand up and show them we will not cut Social Security. We will not cut Medicare. Those benefits belong to the American people. They earned them.”
That moment was widely lauded as a political triumph by the president, which could give him the upper hand in the upcoming debt ceiling talks.
“That would be a major win for the Biden White House and a loss for fiscal conservatives seeking to change the New Deal and Great Society landmark programs by arguing transformative reforms are necessary to save them from going bankrupt,” the Palm Beach Post said of the moment in the speech. “And it could ease contentious debt ceiling negotiations by gutting a key leverage point for hardline Republicans threatening to default on the U.S. debt.”
Biden’s prepared remarks further defended the programs.
“If anyone tries to cut Social Security, I will stop them. And if anyone tries to cut Medicare, I will stop them. I will not allow them to be taken away. Not today. Not tomorrow. Not ever,” the president said. “Next month when I offer my fiscal plan, I ask my Republican friends to offer their plan. We can sit down together and discuss both plans together. My plan will lower the deficit by $2 trillion. I won’t cut a single Social Security or Medicare benefit.”
Expertise and Experience: Stephen Silver is a Senior Editor for 19FortyFive. He is an award-winning journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.