- Johnson suggested putting Social Security and Medicare up for potential cuts every year.
- He faced a barrage of criticism from the White House and other Democrats.
- The Wisconsin Republican earlier in the year suggested repealing Obamacare.
Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin suggested putting Social Security and Medicare up for potential spending cuts every year in an effort to rein in the national debt.
"If you qualify for the entitlement, you just get it no matter what the cost," the Wisconsin Republican said on "The Regular Joe Show" interview that aired Tuesday. "And our problem in this country is that more than 70 percent of our federal budget, of our federal spending, is all mandatory spending. It's on automatic pilot. It never — you just don't do proper oversight. You don't get in there and fix the programs going bankrupt."
—Heartland Signal (@HeartlandSignal) August 2, 2022
He went on: "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."
His comments prompted sharp criticism from the White House later on Tuesday. White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Johnson's idea would "devastate families."
—Karine Jean-Pierre (@PressSec) August 2, 2022
A Johnson representative elaborated on his comments.
"Sen. Johnson's point was we need oversight to save these programs and Congress needs to address to ensure that seniors don't question whether the programs they depend on remain solvent," Johnson spokesperson Alexa Henning wrote on Twitter.
Both programs form the linchpin of the safety net. Social Security provides retirement benefits to elderly and disabled people while Medicare provides health coverage to Americans over the age of 65. Congress isn't required to reauthorize Social Security and Medicare spending every year.
Democrats mostly favor expanding benefits for both programs with higher taxes on the richest Americans and large corporations. Republicans have largely advocated for spending cuts to both programs over the years, though President Donald Trump mostly split the GOP from that direction.
Johnson is mounting his third bid for re-election to the Senate in the November midterms. But it's not the first time this year that Johnson prompted a wave of criticism from Democrats. He suggested Republicans should embark on another effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act if they retake control of Congress this fall.
Sen. Rick Scott of Florida put out an agenda in early March that would have prompted lawmakers to re-evaluate Social Security and Medicare every five years, fueling Democratic attacks that he aimed to jeopardize their future. Senate Minority Mitch McConnell rebuked Scott and said that would not be the intention of a Senate Republican majority.
Johnson faced a barrage of Democratic attacks for his comments. "You know what happens when we make things discretionary around here? All too often they get cut or even eliminated," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a floor speech on Wednesday.