When President Joe Biden very accurately said in his State of the Union speech Tuesday that some Republicans have called for eliminating Social Security and Medicare, all the Rs in the House chamber were shocked and horrified, and few were more hilariously performative in their how dare you, sir! theatrics than Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah). It made for a really fun side-by-side video the next morning, contrasting Lee looking outraged during the speech with his actual comments in 2010 where he proudly announced to mostly elderly voters in Cache Valley, Utah, that he wanted to phase out Social Security and Medicare because America simply can’t afford all the socialism. Roll 212, as they say (no one remembers that Daily Show bit from a decade ago, Dok):
Well Mike Lee was not at all pleased that people keep pointing out that he did indeed tell Utah voters during his first run for Senate in 2010,
“I’m here right now to tell you one thing you’ve probably never heard from a politician. It’ll be my objective to phase out Social Security, to pull it up from the roots and get rid of it. People who advise me politically always tell me that’s dangerous and I tell them, ‘In that case it’s not worth my running.’ That’s why I’m doing this, to get rid of that. Medicare and Medicaid are of the same sort, they need to be pulled up.”
Sure sounds like a pledge to phase out Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, to pull them up by the roots and get rid of both programs. Indeed, that goal was why Lee wanted to be in the Senate. It wouldn’t be worth running if he couldn’t get rid of all three. As Newsweek pointed out Wednesday, Lee had framed his vow to extirpate the programs because the Constitution itself (and he waved a copy around) doesn’t say anywhere that government has “the power to redistribute my wealth, yet that’s what entitlement programs are — they’re a wealth redistribution.”
Biden made a point of quoting Lee Wednesday when he spoke to union workers in Wisconsin. Clearly enjoying himself, Biden said, “There was a senator named Mike Lee who was yelling, you know, liar, liar, house on fire kind of stuff last night.” He then went on to quote Lee’s 2010 comments, adding, “Sounds pretty clear to me. How about you? But they sure didn’t like me calling them on it.”
The White House also tweeted out the Newsweek article, noting again the line about Lee’s 2010 pledge to “phase out Social Security, to pull it up by the roots, and get rid of it.”
But wait! Lee tweeted an angry statement later Wednesday to point out that his critics were leaving out a vital part of his statement! He was the victim of selective editing, is all, he said, because his real point in 2010 was that even though he wanted to drive a stake through Social Security and Medicare, he also said America must “honor the commitments made to those who have paid into the system for decades” — in other words, as with George W. Bush’s failed plan to privatize Social Security, those already in the program wouldn’t be thrown off. He’d simply eliminate the programs for the young folks coming up. See? Big difference!
“In repeatedly quoting my 2010 remarks today, President Biden conveniently left out that critical detail — that even when I voiced that position, I insisted that we honor the reliance interests of those who have paid into the system.”
If you want to nitpick — and it would be irresponsible not to — nothing of the sort could be done for current Medicaid beneficiaries, because how exactly would you grandfather in those useless eaters and their useless children in the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) for an income-based program, exactly.
Lee also griped that in the dozen years he’s been in the Senate, he hasn’t actually tried to abolish Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, so there — he broke that campaign promise and he broke it good!
Lee followed up with a tweet replying to the White House, with video evidence that he had definitely told the senior voters in 2010 that he’d only wipe out Social Security and Medicare for their children and grandchildren, not them. And if “I will impoverish your children and grandchildren when they reach retirement age, but not you” isn’t a GOP motto, it sure could be.
Decide for yourself just how exculpatory the full context is, ‘kay?
“We have to hold harmless those who are current beneficiaries. Those who have retired and are currently receiving those benefits, their benefits have to be left untouched, unchanged, un … fazed.”
We Think maybe Lee meant un-phased out there, but maybe the benefits would just hear the news without reacting. He went on to add that “The next layer beneath them, those who will retire within the next few years, probably also have to be held harmless,” so that’s very reassuring.
Lee didn’t specify what age cohort would be spared the axe, but it’s very clear, in the context that Lee provides, that even though he wouldn’t cut Nana’s Medicare, Nana’s granddaughter is screwed, even if she’s been paying into the system for a decade or two.
Lee didn’t go into any details about how, once all the youngs are freed from the burden of paycheck withholding, Social Security and Medicare would be sustained for existing beneficiaries until they all died and the programs wound down.
But no matter: ALL you meanies need to be nice to Mike Lee, who never said he’d completely eliminate Social Security and Medicare. All he wanted was to screw everyone under, say, 50 or 55, and thank goodness he broke that particular campaign promise, so he is the hero, OK?
Thank you for the clarification, sir!
Of course, this is all touche and en garde about one little campaign appearance a decade ago, when actually “get rid of the social safety net” is one of the very few policy positions Republicans bother holding anymore since they’ve all become idea-free nihilists, and it’s one that goes back decades and they’re still doing it as of this term.
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