Joe Biden’s gambit

On entitlement programs, Donald Trump and Joe Biden speak from the same hymnbook and intend on trying to perpetuate programs which simply do not have the funding on hand to sustain themselves. Biden needs Trump in 2024 because the latter provides nothing new the American people haven’t already seen. Ron DeSantis, on the other hand, is a different animal. Photo credit: AFP/Mandel Ngan via Getty Images


Several recent events prove that a lie will get up and travel around the world before the truth has even had a chance to put on its pants (a quote originating with Jonathan Swift not Mark Twain, Winston Churchill, or Charles Spurgeon, though all created their own versions). 

This is a case in point: Joe Biden claims that Republicans are intent on gutting Social Security and Medicare and will do it the moment a Democrat does not inhabit the White House. As Kim Strassel noted in her Wall Street Journal column on February 9, “Mr. Biden couldn’t resist the chance to use a national address to repeat his warning that Republicans are greasing granny’s wheelchair and hunting for high cliffs. He bet he could goad GOP members into a response, and he bet right. Their angry protests assisted the White House in turning its entitlement rubbish into the national conversation.”

On cue, it rolled out a “fact sheet” detailing Republicans’ “many proposals to cut Social Security and Medicare.” As Ms. Strassel noted, “the media regurgitated this into wild claims that the GOP is intent on sabotaging its most reliable voting bloc.” Now, why would a nice man like Joe Biden say such a thing about his Republican friends? 

For those who follow politics with some degree of interest and have done so for any length of time, politicians lying comes as no surprise, Joe Biden lying as a matter of function. In this case, he spoke these words in Florida, where the resident governor, Ron DeSantis, poses a different kind of threat to Biden than Donald Trump and one which actually scares both Biden and his team. 

The setting of this recent scuffle over entitlement programs comes on the heels of Biden’s State of the Union address on February 7 where he and some Congressional Republicans got into a verbal exchange on the floor of the House. Normally, national decorum and respect would prevail during this institutional event. Undoubtedly Biden planned this confrontation hoping to bait some of the more rabid right-wing members into responding and looking foolish as the President proved his point. Biden likely won the skirmish because the compliant mainstream media always takes his side and shouting down the one with a microphone generally takes on a bad look. Nonetheless, the facts are not secondary even if you like Biden’s message or strategy.

As Mark Halperin wrote in his daily Substack column, “The facts are actually pretty simple. Democrats claim to be the party that wants to preserve the programs, but really prefer to use them to scare voters away from the Republican Party while fiddling in the face of actual facts that show doing nothing will destroy benefits and the programs themselves.” As Halperin also notes, Republicans have correctly identified the problem of funding shortfalls soon to come, while Democrats use this fact to scare voters into thinking that Republicans, having honestly discerned the trouble ahead, (like one who may have seen the iceberg from the deck of Titanic), seek to steer the ship into the disaster. 

With most Americans living until about 80 years of age and Social Security benefits being collected at 65, the funding model must account for 15 years. Unfortunately, most Americans pay enough into the system to sustain their pay-out for two to three years, meaning that inevitably, the retirement age must be raised, or contributions increased significantly. If a Republican presidential candidate suggested lifting the age of collection to 68, one can only imagine the howls of protest emanating from Joe Biden and other Democrats. 

Whether one wants to face the facts or run from them, the facts do not change. If a better prescription exists then these elected officials had better get to work trying to solve the insolvency. Instead, the status quo suggests that Democrats would rather use the issue to attract older voters and undermine a Republican constituency. When George W. Bush tried to tinker with Social Security in 2005, fresh from re-election, he faced the vicious assaults of an all-out frontal attack, the likes of which scare many Republican politicians to this day. 

Interestingly, in 2008, in the midst of the economic crisis that would undergird Barack Obama’s conquest of the White House, Paul Ryan, a young Republican congressman waded into these troubled waters, using a set of facts that brought scornful rebuke from Democrats. 

As Chris Pope reported in Eye on the News in 2022, “The centerpiece of Ryan’s proposal was a sweeping reform to Medicare, the primary driver of growth in entitlement costs. It had several principal elements: gradually raising the age of eligibility for the program from 65 to 69.5; requiring enrollees to receive Medicare coverage from private insurers; reducing the annual rate of increase in the subsidy for seniors to purchase these plans; and further cutting the subsidy that wealthier seniors would receive. CBO estimated that Ryan’s proposal would have kept the cost of Medicare at around 4 percent of GDP from 2020 to 2060, instead of rising to 11 percent, as was projected.” 

As for Social Security, Ryan sought reform over a lengthy period of time, projecting a retirement age of 70 in 2098. “Ryan proposed allowing individuals to invest a third of their FICA payroll-tax funds in privately owned accounts for the purchase of approved mutual funds, with the federal government guaranteeing a rate of return at the level of inflation. His reform also promised to slow the rate of benefit growth for wealthier seniors and would have gradually increased the retirement age from 67 in 2026 to 70 in 2098. Due to the cost of establishing fully funded private accounts for future generations while paying benefits under the existing pay-as-you-go system, Ryan’s proposal would have slightly increased federal spending on Social Security from 2020 to 2060.” 

As a result of taking the lead on this crucial issue, Ryan became the Vice-Presidential nominee in 2012 and then Speaker of the House in 2016 when Donald Trump became president. 

At this point the story takes a strange turn. Fans of Donald Trump may want to look away, but Paul Ryan’s efforts to try and get control of the runaway entitlement programs suffered under the Trump whip as he promised to not touch the programs and worked with Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi to protect them in their current state. Today, Mr. Trump looks to use a young congressman’s affiliation with Ryan’s plan against him. 

Ron DeSantis went on to become the popular governor of Florida and a threat to Trump’s plans to win back the White House. Trump has already signaled he will brook any effort to change these benefits. On entitlement programs, Donald Trump and Joe Biden speak from the same hymnbook and intend on trying to perpetuate programs which simply do not have the funding on hand to sustain themselves. 

If Republican leaders do not get serious about managing this budgetary crisis, expecting Democrats to do so projects despair. As Trina Paul wrote in CNBC’s Select, “The recent 2022 Social Security Trustees report finds that in 2034, retirees will start receiving a reduced benefit if Congress doesn’t fix funding issues for the social program. In other words, Social Security will exist after 2034, but retirees will only receive 77% of their full benefit starting then.” The President said precious little about the looming fiscal crisis regarding the programs, only that he would prevent Republicans from attempting to alter them. That seems like a good political strategy for 2024, especially if you can tag your opponent with being in favour of looking under the hood. 

Turning this legislation into sacrosanct government doctrine betrays the seriousness of Joe Biden’s presidency and the integrity of the Democratic Party. Biden needs Donald Trump because Trump provides nothing new the American people haven’t already seen. Ron DeSantis is a different animal. 

Younger, brighter, and bent on tackling tough issues, DeSantis might upset the status quo and make Democrats have to answer questions about the aforementioned funding problems. Since the only answers Democrats have rested on the assumption that the media will do their dirty work and call Republicans mean-spirited, risky, and eager to punish the poor, the gamble may work. Then again, the last few times a younger, interesting, and generational change candidate faced an older and more experienced opponent – Clinton v Bush 1992, Obama v McCain, 2008 – the former won. 

Joe Biden’s gambit to once again use a tried-and-true formula to maintain power depends on his opponent being Donald Trump. All bets are off otherwise. 

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