WASHINGTON — After President Joe Biden criticized Republicans on Social Security and Medicare during his State of the Union address, drawing outcry from the party, Republican leaders urged him to stop telling Americans that the The Republican Party wants to cut those retirement programs.

Biden then visited Florida and did it again, exasperating the party and escalating a fight that is about to play out on Capitol Hill and in the 2024 presidential election.

“The president, for a few weeks now, has been falsely saying that there are people who want to get rid of Social Security and Medicare. And he’s been inaccurate for a long time, and you saw last night when he tried to frame us,” House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-Los Angeles, told NBC News a day after Biden’s speech before the Congress. “I just hope he stops going around the country saying that falsehood because there is no truth to it.

“We want to strengthen Social Security by ending a lot of those government checks to people who stay home instead of going to work,” Scalise said, endorsing the work requirements for benefits.

The next day, at the University of Tampa on Thursday, Biden broke into a plan by Sen. Rick Scott, a Florida Republican, saying he would «expire Social Security and Medicare every five years.» He also went after Sen. Ron Johnson, Republican of Wisconsin, who called Social Security a «Ponzi scheme» and called for its restructuring.

“They were offended. ‘Liar! Liar!’” Biden mimicked.

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., pressed Biden to support the spending cuts, but said Social Security and Medicare should be exempt. There is no bill with Republican consensus to change those programs, although there are several proposals to stop them over time. The White House told NBC News that Biden will continue to criticize those Republican plans.

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., on Capitol Hill on February 6, 2023.
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., on Capitol Hill on February 6.Saúl Loeb / AFP – Getty Images

Biden’s attack stems from a political agenda published last year by Scott, then head of the Senate’s Republican campaign arm. The agenda included a section that read: “All federal legislation expires in 5 years. If a law is worth upholding, Congress can pass it again.» Democrats were quick to say that such a policy, if implemented, could lead to the extinction of Social Security and Medicare. Republican leaders, recognizing the political dangers, have distanced themselves from her. But Biden has persisted in using that and other comments by Republican candidates about so-called entitlements to drive a wedge between them and voters who trust the programs.

Biden advisers also cite the budget 2023 by the Republican Study Committee, a group of more than 100 House members, proposing to raise the eligibility age for Social Security to adjust for changes in life spans and slow benefit growth over time . It also includes Medicare’s «premium support» for private plans, reflecting a controversial idea from former President Paul Ryan last decade that came to a head in the 2012 election.

“Republicans don’t like to be called out on this,” Biden said. “Lots of Republicans: Their dream is to cut Social Security and Medicare. Well, let me tell you this: if that’s your dream, I’m your nightmare.»

The divide between Democrats and Republicans

Biden’s State of the Union and subsequent trips are seen as a soft launch for his long-awaited re-election bid, in which he intends to paint the Republican Party as a threat to Social Security and Medicare, the jewels of the Democratic-led New Deal crown. and the Great Society, building on decades of attempts to restructure, privatize, or reduce long-term spending on popular safety net programs.

Democrats seized on the issue in the 2022 midterms with some success, and now it moves onto an even bigger stage.

«It’s a smart move in the short term in the debt limit fight, and it’s even smarter as we head into re-election in 2024,» said Scott Mulhauser, a former Biden adviser who has worked on campaigns and in government. . “It moves voters, it moves seniors, it moves loyalties and alliances, and it resonates.”

President Joe Biden delivers the State of the Union address on February 7, 2023.
President Joe Biden delivers the State of the Union address on Tuesday.Andrew Caballero-Reynolds / AFP – Getty Images

The political fight means Washington is delaying a reckoning over how to sort out the long-term finances of the programs. trustees reports Let’s say the Medicare trust fund is fully solvent until 2028 (after that, payments will be cut) and Social Security is solvent until 2035 (after that, scheduled benefits would be reduced).

Biden’s comments indicate Democrats have scrapped compromises they sought during President Barack Obama’s first term to cut long-term benefits as a way to reduce the national debt. Those negotiations drew objections from the left and never materialized into an agreement. Since then, Democrats have backed away from potential cuts and focused on raising revenue to expand retirement benefits.

It represents a growing split with Republicans, who continue to rule out new taxes to fund benefits and instead believe spending needs to be cut for the long term.

Biden has endorsed raising the payroll tax cap for top earners to expand Social Security payments. She tried to expand Medicare benefits for dental, vision and hearing services, but that effort was blocked by some centrists, primarily Sen. Joe Manchin, DW.Va.

«I’m sick of your lies»

«I have no idea what his motivation was, but I’m sick of his lies,» said Rep. Beth Van Duyne, a Texas Republican, who looked taken aback on the House floor when Biden launched his attack on Republicans in his speech on Tuesday. State of the Union. .

“He has heard more than enough times that the Republicans are not looking to cut but to protect those programs. And I thought it was all scaremongering on his part and an effort to deviate from his failed policies,” said Van Duyne, who sits on the Ways and Means Committee that oversees Social Security and Medicare.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, Republican of Georgia, who repeatedly yelled «Liar!» during that part of Biden’s speech, she later said: “He had been lying about the Republicans, saying we were going to cut Social Security, cut Medicare. And I can tell you that I haven’t been to a single meeting at our conference where we’ve talked about that.»

White House spokesman Andrew Bates said in an email that protecting those programs «is critical to President Biden’s top priority» and made it clear that he will not stop announcing plans to reduce them.

“A wide range of Republican lawmakers have backed severe cuts to Medicare and Social Security benefits in the name of ‘fiscal responsibility,’” Bates said. «Complaining that the president is precisely exposing plans they don’t want their constituents to know about is not the defense they think.»

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., on Capitol Hill on January 31, 2023.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., on Capitol Hill on January 31.Manuel Balce Cenata / AP File

Mulhauser said it’s «encouraging» to see Republicans complain that the Democrats are using a tactic the GOP has often used: elevating the proposals of some in the other party and creating contrast.

“This is equally a fair fight,” he said. «And it’s particularly so when these Republican positions are codified, documented in print, introduced into legislation.»

As Republicans insist programs are off the table in a debt limit bill to prevent default this year, they face a dilemma: Leaving those costly programs intact is incompatible with the demands of some conservatives. to balance the budget.

Biden’s decision to highlight Social Security and Medicare has also raised tensions within the Republican Party, most notably between Scott and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., whose aides blame the Florida Republican for hurting Republican candidates in the 2022 election.

«It’s just a bad idea,» McConnell said Thursday of Scott’s schedule. “I think it will be a challenge for him to deal with this in his own re-election in Florida, a state with more seniors than any other state in the United States. .”

Scott, who has stuck to his agenda and accused Biden of «lying» about it, claimed Friday that McConnell was endorsing the Democratic president.

“He is endorsing Biden again,” Scott said. «He doesn’t think we should have a plan.»