Millions of Americans would face uncertainty each year about whether they’ll receive the benefits they helped pay for throughout their working lives.
There was no dancing around semantics this time. Wisconsin Republican Sen. Ron Johnson—facing a tough battle for reelection—told a podcast host on Tuesday that he believes programs like Social Security and Medicare should be subject to the annual whims of whichever party’s politicians control Congress each year.
“What we ought to be doing is, we ought to turn everything into discretionary spending so it’s all evaluated, so that we can fix problems or fix programs that are broken, that are going to be going bankrupt,” Johnson said on the Regular Joe Show podcast. “As long as things are on automatic pilot, we just continue to pile up debt.”
Discretionary spending faces political maneuvering with each budget. Social Security and Medicare are examples of mandatory spending in the federal budget—the programs that are funded first because Americans have paid into them through taxes, payroll deductions, and other manners.
Johnson frequently claims that the benefits accrued by Americans are responsible for debt—but instead of properly funding the budget, Johnson supported tax cuts largely geared toward the wealthiest Americans that removed an estimated $2 trillion from the budget over the course of a decade. Democrats have argued these commitments to Americans should be strengthened, not threatened.
“Surprise surprise,” tweeted Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, the Democrat likely to be opposing Johnson after next week’s primary. “The self-serving, multimillionaire senator is trying to strip working people of the Social Security and Medicare benefits they’ve earned over a lifetime of hard work.”
Barnes became the presumptive nominee after his three major primary opponents exited the race last week and endorsed him. Johnson is running for a third term despite a promise not to do so while he was running for a second term.
Johnson is not likely to find many Republicans joining him in touching the third-rail of benefits received by working Americans upon retirement. When Johnson previously expressed support for a plan by colleague Sen. Rick Scott (R-Florida) that also would have forced Medicare and Social Security to face elimination, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) said, “Let me tell you what would not be a part of our agenda: We will not have as part of our agenda a bill that raises taxes on half the American people and sunsets Social Security and Medicare within five years.”
Johnson couched his support back then, saying “Do I agree with everything on it? Well, most of it. I would have changes in certain things, but I think it’s a positive thing.” He has yet to release a plan of his own that spells out what he would reject from the Scott plan.
A story in the Washington Post includes the note that Wisconsin ranks 17th in the nation in the percentage of the population 65 and older, according to the nonprofit Population Reference Bureau.