Florida Republicans Bash Obama for Threats Over Debt Limit
Marco Rubio leads the charge, warning that Social Security, Medicaid and military pay are in jeopardy
Around the State
Republicans from across Florida took aim at President Barack Obama this week for bringing up the possibility of freezing Social Security, Medicaid, military pay and veterans’ benefits if a federal government shutdown occurs.
During an interview with CBS, Obama said that Social Security payments could be held up if the Congress -- divided by a Democratic-controlled Senate and a Republican-controlled House -- doesn't raise the debt ceiling by Aug. 2.
"I cannot guarantee that those checks go out on Aug. 3 if we haven't resolved this issue," said Obama. "Because there may simply not be the money in the coffers to do it."
The Obama administration ratcheted up the rhetoric following the interview.
"That would then entail a kind of 'Sophie's Choice' situation, where you have to decide what bills you can pay," insisted Jay Carney, the White House press secretary. "And the fact is, you know, whether it's Social Security checks or veterans' benefits or disability benefits, it's pretty clear that the effect will be significant."
While conservatives across the nation took note of Marco Rubio as a rising star during the 2010 election cycle, he kept a low profile during the first half of 2010. Already the subject of talk about a possible future presidential campaign -- and a leading possibility for the vice presidential spot on the 2012 Republican tickert -- the new U.S. senator from Florida fired away at Obama.
Appearing on the Hugh Hewitt radio show Tuesday, Rubio took off the gloves and ripped into Obama over federal budget negotiations.
Asked by Hewitt if seniors in Florida would be impacted by not getting Social Security checks, Rubio insisted, if that happens, it will be Obama’s fault.
“Well, if they don’t get their Social Security checks, it’s because the president’s decided to do that, because we still have revenue coming in,” said Rubio. “Here’s the other thing I would say: If, in fact, the president holds up their checks for Social Security and Medicare, and whatever else he wants to hold up to make his point, isn’t he admitting that all these programs are funded by deficit spending? Isn’t he admitting that all these programs are dependent upon borrowed money?
“And I think the folks who are on Social Security, people like my mom, would be shocked to learn the truth that the money they’re receiving in Social Security isn’t the money they worked hard for all these years to put away, the government was going to give back to them in their retirement.
"The government spent all that money already,” added Rubio. “They spent it long ago on other things. This is borrowed money. This is money that we’re borrowing from our children and our grandchildren. And I think ... if that happens ... people are going to be shocked to learn the real truth about what the government’s done with their Social Security money.”
Rubio added that Obama could see the problem coming, and did nothing to prevent it.
“This issue of the debt limit didn’t sneak up on us. This has been around for a while. We knew this was coming. And then the president’s done nothing on it. He gave a State of the Union speech this year, never mentioned any plans about how to address this. He offered a budget before Congress, and the budget was so bad, I mean, it actually increased the debt. His budget was so bad, so unrealistic, that when we put it to a vote here in the Senate, not even a single Democrat voted for it. That’s how bad it was. It didn’t get a single vote."
Rubio was not alone. Republicans from all across the Sunshine State rose up in a chorus to condemn Obama on Wednesday.
Former state House Majority Leader Adam Hasner, now running for the Republican nomination to take on Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson in 2012, also slammed the president.
"President Obama's threat yesterday to withhold Social Security payments if he doesn't get his way on raising taxes is shameful. It's a new low for Washington," Hasner said. "And quite frankly, it's beneath the office he holds. There are more than 3.7 million Floridians who depend on Social Security to make ends meet. They should not be used as pawns in the president's political games. Republicans should do everything they can to prevent this president from risking Social Security and Medicare further through unsustainable spending."
Nelson also weighed in, sending a letter to U.S. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner on the matter and pointing to a bill passed in 1996 to continue Social Security.
“This week I heard the president say we cannot guarantee the 27 million Social Security checks that are due to be mailed on Aug. 3, the day after the Treasury Department has anticipated we will hit the debt ceiling if congressional leaders fail to get beyond the partisan games and reach an agreement on spending cuts and increasing the nation's borrowing limit,” wrote Nelson. “The stakes are high not only for our economy, but also for the millions of seniors who depend solely on Social Security.
“My question is: What plan does the Treasury have to continue payment of Social Security checks under the worst-case scenario? During the 1996 debt-limit situation, Congress passed a special temporary law that said Social Security didn’t count against the debt limit. Would such a nontraditional measure be needed today? Would pending legislation that prioritizes Social Security obligations suffice? If not, I stand ready with legislation that would temporarily exempt Social Security obligations from the public debt limit.
“There are nearly 4 million Social Security recipients in my state alone who need answers to these questions,” closed Nelson. “Please respond immediately, as time is of the essence.”
Last week, Florida Republican U.S. Rep. Daniel Webster introduced the Prioritize Spending Act of 2011, which would keep benefits flowing if the debt limit was reached, and his bill gained momentum Wednesday.
"Serious and substantive spending reforms are indispensable to any discussion of raising the debt limit. I remain hopeful that a cooperative effort to implement such spending reforms without raising taxes will be successful,” said Webster when he unveiled the proposal. “Courageous actions are necessary to transform the spending habits of Washington. We must cut spending without raising taxes.
“Inaction, by the Senate not passing a budget, has brought us to this critical situation. But waiting is not an option. A reasonable and responsible solution is needed as an immediate answer to the debt-ceiling problem,” added Webster. “It is important that while we fight for true spending transformations, we also prepare to prevent any default by protecting our priorities. Should we reach the debt limit after ideas to tackle Washington’s spending habit have been ignored, we must immediately prioritize spending by paying our debts, funding our military and caring for our seniors.”
Republican U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross, a fellow freshman from Florida, said Wednesday that he will co-sponsor Webster’s proposal. Unlike Webster, Ross took aim at the president.
“It is clear that this president seems intent on vilifying private enterprise and scaring seniors, rather than leading,” said Ross. “The fact of the matter is, if seniors or servicemen and women do not get paid, it will be only because the president chose not to pay them. The American Treasury takes in more than enough money from tax revenue monthly to pay Social Security, Medicare, essential defense, interest on our debt, and more. This president needs to understand that American taxpayers were serious in November when they said enough is enough.”
Yet another Republican freshman from Florida -- U.S. Rep. Sandy Adams -- also signed on to Webster’s bill as a co-sponsor Wednesday.
“After years of kicking the can down the road, reckless spending, and the Senate’s repeated failure to pass a budget, we now find our nation at an economic crossroads,” said Adams. “With our country on the verge of possibly defaulting on our obligations, tough choices must be made immediately. The central question facing our nation remains, are we going to continue down the same reckless road that led us into this fiscal disaster, or are we going to change course and chart a more fiscally responsible path? I choose the latter."
U.S. Rep. Allen West, R-Fla., took to Fox News on Tuesday to offer his take on Obama's comments.
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“The president is threatening seniors won't get their Medicare checks,” West noted on Wednesday. “The government will still have revenues coming in and Geithner needs to prioritize.”
Reach Kevin Derby at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (850) 727-0859.