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Biden protects Social Security in State of the Union speech—forcing raucous Republicans to agree

by David Silverberg

Southwest Florida’s seniors were reassured last night, Feb. 7, that Social Security will continue uncut thanks to President Joe Biden’s skillful handling of Republican detractors during his State of the Union address.

“Some of my Republican friends want to take the economy hostage — I get it — unless I agree to their economic plans. All of you at home should know what those plans are,” he said at one point during the speech. “Instead of making the wealthy pay their fair share, some Republicans, some Republicans, want Medicare and Social Security to sunset. I’m not saying it’s the majority.”

When Republicans booed and shouted out denials they had any plans to cut Social Security, he took that as support for Social Security and responded: “Folks — so folks, as we all apparently agree, Social Security and Medicare is off the books now, right? They’re not to be — all right. We’ve got unanimity.”

He continued: “Social Security and Medicare are a lifeline for millions of seniors. Americans have to pay into them from the very first paycheck they started.

“So tonight, let’s all agree — and we apparently are — let’s 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 it.

“And if anyone tries to cut Social Security, which apparently no one’s going to do, and if anyone tries to cut Medicare, I’ll stop them. I’ll veto it. And look, I’m not going to allow them to take away — be taken away.

“Not today. Not tomorrow. Not ever. But apparently it’s not going to be a problem.”

The threatening record

Despite vehement denials, there are Republican proposals to end, or at least jeopardize, the continuation of Social Security and Medicare.

The chief antagonist is Florida’s own Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) who issued his 11-point “Rescue America” early last year. That plan would subject Social Security and Medicare to five-year reauthorizations, with the possibility that it could be terminated at any time. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) proposed subjecting the programs to annual renewals, making them even more precarious.

In the House, Rep. Kevin Hern (R-1-Okla.), the leader of the conservative Republican Study Committee, told The Washington Post in January that, “We have no choice but to make hard decisions,” when it came to cuts. Coming on top of Republican threats not to raise the debt ceiling, the remarks indicated a willingness to sacrifice Social Security. A House Republican “Commitment to America” called for cuts but was vague about its commitment to preserving Social Security and Medicare.

The debate over Social Security and Medicaid is particularly relevant in Southwest Florida.

As of January 2023, there were 548,533 Social Security recipients in all of Florida, of whom 224,920 were 65 years or older, according to the Social Security Administration.

As of January 2023, there were 548,533 Social Security recipients in all of Florida, of whom 224,920 were 65 years or older, according to the Social Security Administration.

In Collier County, out of a total 2021 population of 385,980 people, 29 percent were 65 years or older and 48 percent of them received Social Security benefits, according to the 2021 Profile of Older Floridians (the latest available).

Some 29 percent of the 2021 Lee County population of 787,976 was also 65 years and older, according to the US Census, and 12,547 received Social Security benefits, according to the Social Security Administration.

Since all these were 2021 figures, the numbers have probably gone up.

These are substantial segments of the Southwest Florida population and they would be devastated by cuts to Social Security and Medicare, especially given the increased needs in the wake of Hurricane Ian’s destruction.

Discussion of the debt ceiling and the future of the national budget will continue. However, for Southwest Florida seniors dependent on Social Security for their income and Medicare to pay their medical bills, their benefits now appear safe for the moment, thanks to an unruly consensus forged by the president in the midst of a State of the Union speech.

Special to Big Mouth Media from the Paradise Progressive. Originally published on February 8, 2023.

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