Biden, in midterm campaign pitch, focuses on Social Security and Medicare
By Peter Baker
President Joe Biden pressed his argument earlier this week that a Republican victory in next week’s midterm congressional elections would endanger Social Security and Medicare, bringing his case to the retirement haven of Florida, where the politics of the two programs resonate historically.
During a whirlwind one-day swing through vote-rich South Florida, Biden took credit for legislation he pushed through Congress to curb the cost of prescription drugs for Medicare recipients and asserted that Republicans plan to undermine the foundations of the two major government programs benefiting older Americans.
“They’re coming after your Social Security and Medicare, and they’re saying it out loud,” Biden told a crowd at his first full-fledged campaign rally since Labor Day. By contrast, he boasted that Social Security just approved an 8.7% increase in benefits, the largest in four decades. “The checks are going to go up and the Medicare fees are going to go down at the same time. And I promise you: I’ll protect Social Security. I’ll protect Medicare. I’ll protect you.”
The president has turned increasingly to stark warnings about Social Security and Medicare in the closing days of the campaign, banking on a traditional Democratic issue to galvanize older voters, who tend to turn out more reliably during midterm elections than other generations. Republicans complain that such “Mediscare” tactics unfairly distort their position and reflect desperation by Democrats on the defensive over inflation, which is near a 40-year high.
As he presented Republicans as the party of radicalism during his stops Tuesday, Biden chastised some of its prominent figures for not taking an attack early Friday on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband seriously and spreading conspiracy theories about it.
“Look at the response of Republicans, making jokes about it,” Biden said at an earlier fundraising reception for former Gov. Charlie Crist, who is seeking to reclaim his old office. “The guy purchases a hammer to kneecap” the woman who stands second in line to the presidency, he said of the assailant, and some Republicans brushed it off. “These guys are extremely extreme,” he said.
The president’s trip to Florida opened a final week of campaigning before next Tuesday’s vote, but it did not go without its bumps. Biden, who at 79 is the oldest president in American history, fumbled at one point during his first talk of the day, confusing the American war in Iraq with the Russian war in Ukraine. While trying to correct himself, he then misstated how his son Beau, who served in the Delaware Army National Guard in Iraq, died in 2015.
“Inflation is a worldwide problem right now because of a war in Iraq and the impact on oil and what Russia is doing,” Biden told a crowd at O.B. Johnson Park in Hallandale Beach. “Excuse me, the war in Ukraine,” he said. To explain, he told the audience, “I think of Iraq because that’s where my son died.” Then he seemed to catch himself again and sought to amend his words one more time. “Because, he died,” he said, apparently referring to his belief that Beau’s brain cancer stemmed from his service in Iraq and exposure to toxic burn pits.
In addition to Florida, Biden’s travels this week are expected to take him to New Mexico, California, Pennsylvania and Maryland. With anemic approval ratings, the president is avoiding some of the most competitive states, like Arizona, Georgia and Ohio, where Democrats are not eager to have him at their side. But he will join former President Barack Obama on Saturday in Pennsylvania, where Biden was born, to bolster John Fetterman’s campaign for Senate, one of the hottest and tightest races in the country.
In addition to Crist, who is seeking to oust Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, Biden appeared with Rep. Val B. Demings, the Democratic challenger to Sen. Marco Rubio. DeSantis leads by roughly 9 percentage points and Rubio by about 7 percentage points, according to an aggregation of polls by the political data website FiveThirtyEight.
Biden went after some Republicans by name. He called DeSantis “Donald Trump incarnate.” He accused Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California, the would-be new speaker, of being “reckless and irresponsible.” And he assailed Republicans such as Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, the onetime QAnon follower who has worked to push the party to the right, for criticizing his effort to forgive some student loan debt while having their own COVID-19 loan debt forgiven.
The president appeared most irritated by attacks on him over inflation. In Hallandale Beach, he pointed to his efforts to limit health care costs for seniors. “They talk about inflation all the time,” he said. “What in God’s name?” He added: “If you have to take a prescription and it cost you an arm and a leg and I reduce that, you don’t have to pay as much. That reduces your cost of living. It reduces inflation.”
To bolster his contention that Republicans are aiming to undercut Social Security and Medicare, Biden once again cited a legislative agenda put forth by Sen. Rick Scott of Florida, chair of the Senate Republicans’ campaign arm, that has been disavowed by other Republicans, most notably Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the party’s leader in the upper chamber. Scott’s legislative agenda called for “sunsetting” all federal legislation every five years, meaning programs like Social Security and Medicare would expire unless reauthorized by Congress.
Before the president’s trip to Florida, Scott said Sunday that his position had been twisted and that “I don’t know one Republican” who favors cutting Social Security payments or cutting Medicare benefits.
“I believe we’ve got to preserve them and make sure that we keep them,” Scott told Dana Bash on “State of the Union” on CNN. “What I want to do is make sure we live within our means and make sure we preserve those programs. People paid into them. They believe in them. I believe in them. I’m going to fight like hell to make sure we preserve Medicare and Social Security.”