As Election Day approaches, Democrats warn that Social Security and Medicare are at stake

Voters turn out to cast their ballots as early voting begins on Oct. 17, 2022 in Atlanta. Early voting in Georgia runs through Nov. 4.
Megan Varner | Getty Images

The Nov. 8 midterm elections will give voters an opportunity to decide which parties control the Senate and the House of Representatives.

In recent days, Democrats have been turning up the heat on the idea that the results may also shape the future of two government programs retirees rely on, Social Security and Medicare.

“They’re coming after your Social Security and Medicare in a big way,” President Joe Biden said of Republicans in a speech Tuesday in Hallandale Beach, Florida.

At the event, Biden touted the recent passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, which will curb Medicare prescription drug costs for seniors.

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The legislation gives Medicare the ability to negotiate prices for certain high-price drugs, caps insulin at $35 per month under Medicare Part D and limits out-of-pocket prescription costs under Part D to $2,000 per month, among other changes.

But Republican opposition could lead the party to stop those changes if they win control on Election Day, Biden warned.

He also pointed to impending risks to Social Security based on plans floated by certain Republican lawmakers, namely Sens. Rick Scott of Florida and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin. Both lawmakers have denied intentions to harm the program.

Biden held up a pamphlet of Scott’s plans, which call for requiring Social Security and Medicare to be reauthorized by Congress every five years.

President Joe Biden speaks about protecting Social Security, Medicare, and lowering prescription drug costs, during a visit to OB Johnson Park and Community Center, in Hallandale Beach, Florida, on Nov. 1, 2022.
Kevin Lamarque | Reuters

“It goes out of existence if Congress doesn’t vote to keep it,” said Biden, who called the proposal “so outrageous you might not even believe it.”

An even stricter proposal, from Johnson, calls for the programs to be revisited annually. Republicans may raise the retirement age for Social Security and shrink benefits, Biden warned.

Advocates call to preserve, expand Social Security

Those threats to Social Security and Medicare have led to a heated campaign season as advocates work to defend the programs.

Jon Bauman, president of the Social Security Works Political Action Committee, has attended at least 45 in-person events for 35 campaigns this election season.

One of those campaign stops was an event for Democratic Rep. Tom Malinowski at a senior living community in New Providence, New Jersey, on a sunny Friday afternoon in early October.

It included a musical performance by Bauman, who was known as “Bowzer” when he was part of the musical group Sha Na Na — which had an eponymous TV show in the 1970s — and appeared in the 1978 film “Grease.”

Musician Jon “Bowzer” Bauman at a concert appearance with Bowzer & the Stingrays on Jan. 17, 2016.
John Atashian | Getty Images Entertainment | Getty Images

While Bauman displayed his musical range — from singing “Rama Lama Ding Dong,” from “Grease,” to playing Frederic Chopin on a keyboard — he also explained how Social Security was instrumental in letting his mother live a life of dignity after his father passed away.

Before Social Security was created in 1935, more than 50% of American seniors had incomes below the poverty line, Bauman said. And before Medicare was passed in 1965, more than 35% of seniors had incomes below the poverty line.

“The simple fact is that Social Security and Medicare are the two most successful domestic programs in the entire history of the United States of America, and you know what?” Bauman said. “We need to keep them that way.”

“In fact, we need to expand them,” he added.

To do that, Bauman called for reelecting Malinowski, who is in a hotly contested race against Republican Tom Kean Jr. to represent New Jersey’s 7th Congressional District.

Democratic incumbent Rep. Tom Malinowski of New Jersey participates in a get out the vote event ahead of next month’s midterm elections on Oct. 29, 2022 in Rahway.
Spencer Platt | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Malinowski is “matchless, perfect” with a 100% voting record in favor of New Jersey’s seniors, Bauman said.

At the event, Malinowski decried Scott’s proposal to put federal programs up for renewal every five years.

It takes the Senate about three days to debate and vote on one bill, he noted.

“If you add up all the laws, and multiply by three, they would be there until the year 4000,” Malinowski said.

What’s more, it would mean letting two of the most important laws that established Social Security and Medicare expire, he said.

“We would have to trust Congress to come together and renew them in the form they are in now,” Malinowski said.

It is unclear what his opponent Kean’s stance is on Social Security and Medicare. Kean’s campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Malinowski may face an uphill battle for reelection, after the district was redrawn and became more Republican.

‘Usually, it’s a lot of lip service to Social Security’

The National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare has also been supporting candidates at events for more competitive races, according to Dan Adcock, its director of government relations and policy.

While that’s in keeping with years past, the difference this year is Social Security has been more of a front-burner issue. That’s due in part to what Adcock calls “inflammatory” comments some Republicans have made about what they would do to the program if they get a majority in the House and Senate.

“It seems like there’s no shortage of Republican candidates or incumbents that are saying the quiet part out loud,” Adcock said. “Usually, it’s a lot of lip service to Social Security and how they think it’s a great program.”

Though the latest Social Security trustees report shows the program has a 13-year runway for how long it can continue to pay full benefits, that is not necessarily prompting the attention to the program in this election, Adcock said.

Polls show Americans are worried about whether benefits will be there for them when they need them. Changes to shore up the program may include benefit cuts, tax increases or a combination of both.

Social Security may be a deciding factor for women 50 and over, a cohort that tends to help decide elections, a recent AARP poll found. While 51% of those voters are undecided, a majority said protecting the program would help them.

DonnaMarie Woodson, 67, a self-described lifelong Democrat from Charlotte, North Carolina, said she is concerned about some candidates’ comments on Medicare and Social Security, which she relies on for retirement benefits, particularly as the cost of living has soared.

“If you think that those are two programs that you should eliminate and feel that you have the right to eliminate, we have a big problem,” Woodson said. “It shows me that you’re not thinking about the people of this country.”

Sophie Tremblay

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