Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) on Wednesday suggested that Social Security and Medicare should no longer be classified as federal entitlement programs and instead the funds should be approved by Congress on a yearly basis in an effort to curb debt.
The lawmaker made the comments during an Aug. 3 interview on “The Regular Joe Show,” a conservative radio program on WTAQ News Talk in Wisconsin.
Johnson noted that budgets for the Department of Defense and Veterans Affairs are approved as discretionary spending annually.
“Social Security and Medicare, if you qualify for the entitlement, you just get it no matter what the cost,” he said. “And our problem in this country is that more than 70 percent of our federal budget, of our federal spending, is all mandatory spending. … You don’t get in there and fix the programs going bankrupt. It’s just on automatic pilot.”
Social Security benefits are available upon retirement in the United States to citizens age 65 or older or those who are disabled, while Medicare health insurance is available to people 65 or older, or to some younger people with disabilities. The programs are funded by payroll taxes.
Johnson said the two programs should have their budgets appropriated by Congress each year so that everything can be evaluated.
‘Massive Debt Burden’
“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. “As long as things are on automatic pilot, we just continue to pile up debt. … It’s this massive debt burden.”
Medicare currently covers almost 64 million Americans and is projected to cost $1.02 trillion in 2023, according to the Republican Study Committee, while over 55 million retirees, survivors, and their families collect benefits from the Social Security Old Age and Survivors Insurance (OASI) Trust Fund.
The Republican Study Committee, a caucus comprising 157 House Republicans, lists cutting Medicare and Social Security as a key tenant of its proposed budget (pdf) for fiscal year 2023.
Annual reports released in June by the trustees of Social Security and Medicare showed that both are heading toward insolvency in the next 13 years.
However, Johnson’s comments have faced criticism from Democratic lawmakers, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) who said in a statement on Aug. 3 that “putting Social Security and Medicare on the chopping block every year is no way to help working families” and will instead “devastate them.”
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), also took aim at Johnson’s suggestion.
“He has argued that the benefits which millions of Americans rely on every day shouldn’t be guaranteed, but should be subject to partisan infighting here in Washington,” Schumer said on the Senate floor on Wednesday. “He would like to revoke the guarantee of Medicare and Social Security and make them discretionary. Well, you know what happens when we make things discretionary around here? All too often they get cut, or even eliminated. We don’t want to do that.”
In a statement to The Epoch Times, a spokesperson for Johnson said the senator’s point was that without the fiscal discipline and oversight typically found with discretionary spending, Congress has allowed Social Security and Medicare benefits to be threatened.
“This must be addressed by Congress taking its responsibilities seriously to ensure that seniors don’t need to question whether the programs they depend on remain solvent,” the statement said. “We need a process to save these programs and no one is doing anything to save them long term. We just continue piling up debt, mortgaging our children’s future, and putting these programs at risk.”
Johnson is seeking a third term in the U.S. Senate during the 2022 midterm elections.