Former Vice President Joe Biden may have to explain a speech from May that’s resurfaced on social media if he indeed plans on running for president.
Twitter user Drogon recently dug up a speech Joe Biden gave to the Brookings Institution in May of 2018 in which he made an eyebrow-raising comment appearing to show support for outgoing House Speaker Paul Ryan’s (R-Wisconsin) controversial agenda to cut earned benefits like Social Security and Medicare.
“Paul Ryan was correct when he did the tax code. What’s the first thing he decided we had to go after? Social Security and Medicare. Now, we need to do something about Social Security and Medicare, that’s the only way you can find room to pay for it,” Biden said in the video.
Found video at 2:40. Biden explicitly says "Paul Ryan was correct when he did the tax code, what was the first thing we have to go after, SS and Medicare. Now we need to do something about SS and Medicare. It's the only way to find room to pay for it" https://t.co/62h6wXF7Oe
— Drogon (@drogon_dracarys) December 27, 2018
Curtailing earned benefits has long been a pet project of leading Republicans, like Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky). Prior to the 2018 midterm election, Sen. McConnell said that Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid were the leading cause of current deficits and called for cuts to those programs as a means of reducing the federal deficit. Ryan zeroed in on Medicare in December of 2017, calling for cuts to the program in order to curb future federal spending.
Of course, both Ryan and McConnell voted for President Trump’s tax cuts that disproportionately benefited corporations and the wealthy at the end of 2017, which costs the federal government $1.5 trillion over a ten-year period. A July 2018 analysis by the New York Times estimated that the tax cuts were growing the federal deficit by roughly $100 billion each year.
Moreover, Social Security funding would be met for the next 75 years if Congress simply removed the payroll tax cap. Currently, annual earnings above $110,100 are untaxed for Social Security purposes, according to the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP). The AARP calculates that, if this cap were eliminated, and all earnings above that cap were taxed at the same 6.2 percent currently paid by working class earners, Social Security would be fully funded for nearly the full remainder of the 21st century.
Joe Biden is likely not in favor of taxing the wealthy in order to keep Social Security funded, according to his May 2018 speech at Brookings. In that same speech, the former vice president distanced himself from Senator Bernie Sanders’ (I-Vermont) condemnations of wealth concentration and suggested billionaires remain exempt from paying Social Security taxes, since they themselves don’t depend on the program.
“I don’t think 500 billionaires are the reason why we’re in trouble… We have not seen this huge concentration of wealth, and the folks at the top aren’t bad guys.” Joe Biden told the audience. “I don’t know a whole lot of people in the top one-tenth of one percent, or the top one percent who are relying on Social Security when they retire.”
"I don't think 500 billionaires are the reason why we're in trouble. But we have not seen this huge concentration of wealth. And the folks at the top aren't bad guys. But this gap is yawning and it's having the effect of pulling us apart." –@JoeBiden https://t.co/C6mCAAqFtT pic.twitter.com/qibLHpYqNE
— Brookings (@BrookingsInst) May 10, 2018
Joe Biden is wrong, however, when saying he hasn’t seen “this huge concentration of wealth.” A December 2017 report by the Institute for Policy Studies found that the combined net worth of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, Microsoft CEO Bill Gates, and Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett was greater than the combined assets of the poorest 160 million Americans. That same report also found that the Forbes list of the 400 wealthiest Americans’ $2.68 trillion combined net worth was greater than the gross domestic product of the United Kingdom.
New Deal and Great Society programs like Social Security and Medicare are consistently some of the most popular programs in public opinion polls. A 2017 poll from Pew Research found that only three percent of Democrats and 10 percent of Republicans supported cuts to Social Security, and only five percent of Democrats and 15 percent of Republicans were in favor of cutting Medicare. If Biden were to run for the White House on cutting these programs, it would almost certainly doom his chances of capturing the Democratic nomination.
Tom Cahill is a contributor for Grit Post who covers political and economic news. He lives in Bend, Oregon. Send him an email at tom DOT v DOT cahill AT gmail DOT com.