Republicans are quick to suggest that President Joe Biden has missed a step, but proved nimble enough Tuesday night to lock them into Social Security and Medicare. And he did it, in part, by going off script.
Nearly halfway through his State of the Union address, Biden said that «some Republicans want Medicare and Social Security to end every five years» and that others would like to use the possibility of defaulting on federal debt as leverage to Cut those programs.
Republicans scoffed. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Georgia Republican, a newly empowered voice in her party, yelled, «Liar!»
At first, Biden offered to provide documentation. Then he simply accepted the answer as a GOP on-the-ground deal to keep the programs intact.
«As we all seem to agree,» he said, backing away from his prepared remarks and grinning like a cat with a canary feather in its teeth, «Social Security and Medicare are now off the books.»
There is a duality to what sounded like a sudden political victory for Biden: Insofar as he protected rights programs, he also made it difficult to campaign on the idea that Republicans are hell-bent on destroying them. But perhaps more important, as he prepares to run for re-election, Biden demonstrated the mental dexterity that critics — and in private moments, even some allies — say he lacks.
If anything, Biden seemed sharper without the script.
“It was a great Biden moment and it showed why he needs to have more opportunities to act freely and speak from his gut,” said Faiz Shakir, who led Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 2020 primary campaign against Biden. «He basically ran a real-time pledging marathon and got a huge majority to commit to taking Social Security and Medicare off the negotiating table.»
It’s not hard to conclude that Biden scored one of the clearest victories of any president in addressing hecklers in a speech to Congress. It’s just as easy to see that most people won’t be thinking about the 2023 State of the Union when they vote in 2024.
But the topics of the exchange can help frame the coming months and the upcoming elections.
Biden wasn’t lying when he said there was some support in the Republican Party for letting Social Security and Medicare expire after five years if Congress doesn’t pass a new law. Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., then chairman of the Senate Republican Party campaign committee, proposed such a plan during the midterm elections. Although other Republican leaders distanced themselves from Scott’s agenda, it became an issue in some races.
But his argument over the debt limit was on more shaky ground. Republicans were quick to point out Tuesday night that House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said «cuts to Medicare and Social Security» are «off the table.»
Either way, Biden may have given the GOP an unexpected gift by claiming a political victory on the rights programs.
“President Biden gave up his political stick by giving Chairman McCarthy and all other Republicans the opportunity to publicly support Social Security, and they happily jumped at the opportunity,” said Republican strategist Matt Mowers.
For Democrats, there was a certain pleasure in watching Biden dance around the ring.
«@potus just duped and flipped the GOP into agreeing to protect Medicare and Social Security on live national TV?» former Rep. Tom Perriello, D-Va., wrote on Twitter.
That is exactly what he did.