Democrats Seize on a GOP Budget Proposal that would Raise Social Security Retirement Age

Matt McClain/The Washington Post
Rep. Kevin Hern (R-Okla.), chairman of the Republican Study Committee, cast the proposal as “proof that it’s possible to balance the budget.”

In a deeply polarized election year, President Biden and fellow Democrats wasted little time lambasting a budget proposal from a large group of House Republicans that would, among other things, raise the retirement age for Social Security and endorse a bill that would codify that life begins at conception.

The fiscal 2025 budget proposal was released Wednesday by the Republican Study Committee – a bloc that includes 80 percent of Republicans in the House, including every member of House leadership. RSC’s proposed budget was released weeks after House Republicans advanced the conference’s official budget plan out of committee.

While the proposal from the Republican faction is unlikely to become law, it offers insight into how Republicans could seek to govern if they win control of Congress and the White House in the 2024 elections. The White House, Democratic lawmakers and political groups hoping to elect more Democrats in November seized on the issue.

Biden called RSC’s proposal “extreme” in a statement Thursday and said it “shows what Republicans value.”

“Let me be clear: I will stop them,” he added.

The White House also circulated a document among reporters about the RSC plan, saying it “cuts Medicare and Social Security while putting health care at risk for millions,” and “rigs the economy for the wealthy and large corporations against middle class families.”

On the Senate floor Thursday morning, Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said the RSC proposal “reads like a wish list for Donald Trump and the MAGA hard right.”

“The Republican Study Committee plan is cruel. It is fringe, way out of line with what most Americans want. But unfortunately it is what the House Republicans envision for our country,” he continued.

The RSC proposal, which the committee dubbed “Fiscal Sanity to Save America,” endorses “modest adjustments to the retirement age for future retirees to account for increases in life expectancy” and says benefits should be lowered for the highest-earning beneficiaries. But the committee also emphasized that the proposal “does not cut or delay retirement benefits for any senior in or near retirement.” The proposal also supports implementing a “premium support model” for Medicare, in which private plans would compete with a federal Medicare plan.

Medicare and Social Security face a looming funding crisis, and there is broad agreement that the programs cannot run over the long term without reducing benefits, lowering payments to the health industry or finding new ways to fund the programs, such as raising taxes. But politicians disagree about how to resolve those issues.

The House Majority PAC, an outside political group working to make Democrats the majority party in the House, plans to cite the budget proposal in ads this fall, said CJ Warnke, the group’s communications director.

“House Republicans are writing House Majority PAC’s ads for us,” Warnke said.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the official campaign arm for House Democrats, said in a statement from spokesman Viet Shelton that the RSC’s plan not only supports dangerous policies but also is deeply unpopular. “Voters can plainly see how little House Republicans actually care about them with this budget, and every single House Republican will have to answer for this extreme plan,” Shelton said.

Rep. Kevin Hern (Okla.), chairman of the RSC, cast the proposal as “proof that it’s possible to balance the budget.” He also said the president’s “refusal to address Social Security insolvency will destroy this or any future Congress’ ability to save it for future generations.”

“His rhetoric is not only false, it’s dangerous,” Hern added.

The intense focus by Democrats on the plan is reminiscent of a dynamic that played out ahead of the 2022 midterms after the release of a wide-ranging “Rescue America” plan by Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), which originally included a provision requiring that all legislation be renewed every five years to stay on the books.

Biden seized on the provision, pointing out that Social Security and Medicare were created by law. The president repeatedly accused the senator of wanting to put the popular programs on the “chopping block,” even though Scott said that wasn’t his intent. In 2023, Scott amended the plan to exclude Medicare and Social Security from the sunset provision.

The president has made Republican proposals, including Scott’s plan, a recurring point of criticism in stump speeches across the country. Biden has said for years that he would not tolerate cuts to the programs. And he has taken hold of Trump’s recent comments about potential entitlement cuts, forcing the former president to clarify where he stands on the issue.

Trump had previously urged fellow Republicans not to cut Social Security and Medicare, but told CNBC earlier this month that there is “a lot you can do … in terms of cutting,” as well as “bad management.” Trump’s campaign later insisted that he was referring to cutting waste within the programs.

To resolve the solvency issue, the RSC touts its budget plan as “common-sense, incremental reforms” that “will simply buy Congress time to come together and negotiate policies that can secure Social Security solvency for decades to come.”

But Rep. Brendan Boyle (Pa.), the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee, characterized the proposed changes in a statement as an attack on seniors, veterans and the middle class that would end Medicare “as we know it” and make “devastating cuts that would raise the cost of living for working families.”

The RSC proposal also endorses several bills “designed to advance the cause of life,” such as the Life at Conception Act, which has 126 co-sponsors in the House. The legislation would provide legal protections “at all stages of life, including the moment of fertilization.” The endorsement of the bill from the committee comes weeks after Republicans attempted to quell concerns about whether the Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade would lead to restrictions on reproductive treatments such as IVF.

After Alabama’s Supreme Court ruled last month that frozen embryos should be considered children and that people can be held liable for destroying them, conservatives running for office, including Trump, sought to distance themselves from the ruling and voiced support for IVF. Many repeated party talking points in support of the creation of families, and Alabama’s legislature voted to protect IVF providers and patients from criminal or civil liability if embryos they create are subsequently damaged or destroyed.

But Republicans supporting the Life at Conception Act have been under scrutiny. The House version of the bill does not designate an exception for IVF, meaning access to the procedure would not be protected if the bill is signed into law. The draft bill does, however, specify that it does not “authorize the prosecution of any woman for the death of her unborn child.”

Schumer, in his floor remarks Thursday, argued that the proposal “makes it clear they’re the same old anti-choice, anti-women party.” The Biden campaign’s rapid-response account on X similarly suggested that the proposal “endorses a ban on all abortions in every single state and ripping away access to IVF.”