Senator Rick Scott wants to "sunset" Social Security and Medicare
By now, many listeners have probably seen Senator Rick Scott (R. Florida) on television trying to deny what is in his infamous 11-point plan to “rescue America.” One example that he tries to deny is in the section on government. Buried on page 19 of the 31-page pdf of the plan is a very significant promise.
[I believe it is worth the time and perhaps waves of disgust that will accompany this reading –Check out the 31-page power point of Scott’s alleged “rescue plan.” You can access it here. To read the plan, itself, click on the TV screen and the entire sent of pdf pages will show up.]
Here is the language from page 19: “All federal legislation sunsets in 5 years. If a law is worth keeping, Congress can pass it again.” [There are a number of promised changes on that page all under the rubric of “Government” but this one is quite a doozey!]
Now among the many federal laws on the books is a law called the Social Security Act. This law was originally passed in 1935 to create Unemployment Insurance, Aid to Dependent Children (cash welfare for widows and orphans --- later extended to cover all poor single women with children renamed Aid to Families with Dependent Children [AFDC]), and Old Age and Survivors Pensions (what is commonly thought of today as “Social Security.”). Since then, the law has been amended many times and expanded dramatically. Here is a link to the current Table of Contents of the law: . The law currently has twenty-one titles --- and under each title are many sections. (I have actually tried to find out how many pages are in the now expanded Social Security Act but could not. I would venture to guess it might be in the thousands!). Included in the current law is an entire section covering Medicare which is administered by the Social Security Administration. (Medicare was passed as an amendment to the Social Security Act in 1965.)
So --- if Scott actually understood his own proposal, the entire Social Security Act --- including Medicare and the Social Security Pensions almost all Americans over 70 are receiving monthly --- would either disappear (that’s what “sunsetting” means, by the way) or have to be re-enacted by Congress.
So naturally, a reporter asked Scott how he could justify “sunsetting” Medicare and Social Security pensions: programs that are wildly popular and have been in existence for decades. Scott dismissed that concern as “Democrat Talking Points.” The reporter retorted, with a tone of exasperation in his voice “No! It’s in your plan.”
[Folks can watch the video here.]
And of course, Scott was lying and the reporter was right. When I delivered this orally over the radio, I went through Scott’s language again – I reminded my audience that the word “All” referred to every piece of federal legislation – including the entire Social Security Act and its many amendments since 1935.
Now let’s consider Scott’s assertion that, “If a law is worth keeping [like the Social Security Act?] Congress can pass it again.
Well, yes. Congress COULD pass the entire Social Security Act word for word again. But will they? Will they not hold hearings? Is there nothing in the current Social Security Act, that some member(s) of Congress might want to change or eliminate? Try and imagine the scenario when the entire Social Security Act (let’s remember that includes the Medicare program – Parts A, B, C and D) needs to be re-authorized.
Since the entire Social Security Act deals with taxing and spending (budget items) Budget Reconciliation could be used in the Senate to re-authorize the law, thereby avoiding the need to get 60 votes. But even getting 51 votes might not be all that easy.
Republicans have always had it in for Medicare. When Newt Gingrich was Speaker of the House in 1995, the Republican majority in both houses passed legislation that cut Medicare spending by $270 billion in order to finance $245 billion in tax cuts. There have been bills suggested to partially privatize social security pensions and to transform Medicare into a government subsidy for individuals to buy private medical insurance.
When Gingrich tried to cut back Medicare in 1995, President Bill Clinton vetoed the Medicare cut and tax cut embedded in two separate budget bills. When his vetoes were upheld, Gingrich shut down the government twice. Ultimately, Clinton and the Republicans in Congress did reach a compromise that involved the abolition of the old AFDC program. (The massive Medicare Cut and tax cut plans were shelved --- the compromise also involved promises to balance the federal budget --- which actually occurred for three years 1998-2001!)
(By the way, the compromise on welfare was a disgusting piece of legislation called the Personal Responsibility Act. For details see Peter Edelman, “The Worst Thing Bill Clinton Has Ever Done,” Atlantic, March, 1997. For the differences between what Clinton initially proposed and what ultimately passed, see Meeropol, Surrender, How the Clinton Administration Completed the Reagan Revolution [U. Michigan Press, 1998, 2000]: 247-9)
Because Medicare has been attacked repeatedly by Republicans, imagine what will be proposed if it “sunsets” and has to be re-imagined and re-authorized by Congress. Now, I do agree that if Scott’s plan were adopted, there would be a great deal of pressure on Congress not to mess with Medicare or any other part of the Social Security Act. However, previous efforts by Republicans make it clear that given a chance, they’d go after Medicare again.
And there might be other sections of the Social Security Act (dealing with Unemployment Compensation, for example) that wouldn’t sail through to re-authorization without a fight. But let’s for the moment assume that something very similar to the current Social Security Act (including Medicare and Unemployment Insurance) would pass again.
In certain other situations, a law that was sunsetting would be allowed to disappear. The Affordable Care Act would not be re-enacted if one house of Congress were to be controlled by Republicans. The SNAP program (also known as food stamps) or Medicaid might have work requirements added. (Or Medicaid might be allowed to disappear!)
And the list of laws goes on and on. Please remember, Scott’s statement refers to ALL federal legislation. There are thousands of federal programs in existence --- all of which would have to be re-authorized. The environmental protection agency would have to be re-imagined. The clean air and clean water acts would have to be re-negotiated in Congress. The entire tax system at the federal level would have to be re-imagined and then re-negotiated.
(The current tax code controlled by the Internal Revenue Act runs to thousands of pages!)
If Scott’s proposal were ever adopted, how would Congress ever have time to consider the problems of today? They would be busy deciding whether to re-enact every law they had ever passed. If they wanted to re-enact them, they would have to re-imagine and re-negotiate them.
Obviously, the entire eleven-point program is mostly hot air. BUT --- it does include some dangerous concrete proposals including this one and the ones I have discussed in two previous commentaries.
[See, for example “Senator Rick Scott’s Plan to Raise Taxes on Low-Income Americans,” available here. In an even earlier commentary, I took on Scott’s proposals about education. See “Senator Rick Scott Proposes a Right-Wing Wish List,” available here.]
The dangerous concrete proposals must be exposed and countered. The fact that most of Scott’s “plan” to “rescue America” is mindless boiler-plate should not cause us to laugh it off. The concrete stuff is dangerous. All Republican candidates for Congress in the Fall should be forced to either own them or repudiate them.
Michael Meeropol is professor emeritus of Economics at Western New England University. He is the author with Howard and Paul Sherman of the recently published second edition of Principles of Macroeconomics: Activist vs. Austerity Policies
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