Wisconsin Public Radio

Ron Johnson Wants Social Security, Medicare To Be Discretionary Spending

This would require annual approval from Congress to fund the programs.

By , Wisconsin Public Radio - Aug 4th, 2022 11:01 am
Ron Johnson. Photo by Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, United States of America / Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0) https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/deed.en

Ron Johnson. Photo by Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, United States of America / Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson said in a radio interview Tuesday that funding for Medicare and Social Security should be approved by Congress each year rather than being automatically renewed. But with three government shutdowns in the last seven years, such a move could add uncertainty to programs millions of Americans rely on.

Johnson made his comments on the Green Bay-based “Regular Joe” radio show. He said federal funding is generally split into two categories: discretionary and mandatory.

Discretionary spending, which covers things like national defense and Veterans Affairs, must get annual approval from Congress, Johnson said.

“What’s mandatory are things like Social Security and Medicare,” Johnson said. “If you qualify for the entitlement, you just get it, no matter what the cost.”

Mandatory spending is generally governed by statute and also covers federal unemployment compensation, federal employee retirement programs and federal student loans.

Johnson said 70 percent of all federal spending is mandatory and lacks proper oversight as a result.

“We’ve got 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,” Johnson said. “Because, again, as long as things are on automatic pilot, we just continue to pile up debt.”

The statements reflect long-held positions for Johnson, who entered politics in 2010 campaigning against federal deficits and has long raised the alarm about what he calls unsustainable government spending. But critics charge that converting Social Security and Medicare into discretionary spending programs would endanger popular social spending programs relied on by millions.

Johnson’s likely opponent in the U.S. Senate general election, Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, was quick to criticize the Republican.

“Self-serving, multimillionaire senator Ron Johnson wants to strip working people of the Social Security and Medicare they’ve earned,” Barnes said in a statement. “Wisconsinites pay into Social Security through a lifetime of hard work, and they’re counting on this program and Medicare — but Ron Johnson just doesn’t care.”

In a statement posted to Twitter, Johnson’s spokesperson Alexa Henning said the point was “that without fiscal discipline and oversight typically found with discretionary spending, Congress has allowed guaranteed benefits for programs like Social Security and Medicare to be threatened.”

“This must be addressed by Congress taking its responsibilities seriously to ensure that seniors don’t need to question whether the programs they depend on remain solvent,” said Henning.

In September 2021, Social Security and Medicare trustee reports projected that the trust fund for Social Security would be unable to pay full benefits in 2034. That’s one year earlier than a previous estimate. A 2016 report from Social Security Administration trustees said ongoing payments coming into the fund would be “sufficient to pay 79 percent of scheduled benefits.”

The Medicare trust fund’s estimated depletion date is 2026.

Congress could boost revenues going to the Social Security and Medicare funds by way of tax increases or other changes to fiscal policy, to the retirement age or the Social Security funding formula. Gaining political consensus on any such plan would likely be an uphill battle, and previous attempts to change or restrict Social Security benefits have failed.

Johnson’s call to make all federal spending discretionary also seems politically unlikely and could leave Americans who rely on Medicare and Social Security benefits in a lurch if Republicans and Democrats deadlocked on reauthorization.

Congress has a long history of government shutdowns in the midst of budget battles. There have been three since 2014 that resulted in federal employees going without pay for days or weeks.

Listen to the WPR report here.

Ron Johnson calls for annual approval of Social Security, Medicare funding was originally published by Wisconsin Public Radio.

6 thoughts on “Ron Johnson Wants Social Security, Medicare To Be Discretionary Spending”

  1. Jhenry1131 says:

    Please get rid of this man! I have worked my whole life paying into this system. It does need to be overhauled, I agree. But can’t that be done without jeapordizing the funding for millions of elderly and disabled Americans?

  2. NieWiederKrieg says:

    Joe Biden and the Democratic Party want to eliminate Social Security and Medicare.

    Back stabbing, lying, deceitful, war mongering Democrats are ten times more evil than Republicans.


  3. frank a schneiger says:

    As we have learned from the Dobbs decision, and the “there is more to come,” it is worth taking the Republican Party and people like Ron Johnson at their word. So, here is a thought and a position that Ron Johnson might want to adopt for the campaign for his second – oops, sorry, third – term in the Senate.

    Basic Republican premise: if you eliminate people of color and liberals, Wisconsin is a “red/Trump” state in a deeply divided country. Why not create “carve-outs” for “red” states like Wisconsin and allow the Republicans to innovate with their thoughtful and anti-woke ideas.

    The following are all clearly defined Johnson/Republican positions, which they have pushed over the years. Why not adopt Ron Johnson’s policies and pass legislation exempting Wisconsin from various laws as a “laboratory of Republican governance.” Specifically:

    1) Privatize Social Security in Wisconsin and allow retirees to get the benefits of “free-market” accounts managed by Goldman-Sachs or Menards in place of the slow-growing current system.
    2) Make Medicare a voucher program in which recipients would get an annual amount enabling them to get health care in the “free market,” or, if they stay healthy, pocket some money. And, stop threatening to control drug prices, and allow big pharma to continue to innovate.
    3) Stop this foolish talk about increasing taxes on the richest Americans and corporations. They have produced the greatest system in the world. Continue to gut the IRS so that it doesn’t harass the job creators, CEOs and innovators. Continue to cut taxes in Wisconsin.
    4) Stop the job-killing environmental/fake climate change wokeism and allow America’s great energy producers to make us once again energy independent. Re-start the critical Keystone Pipeline, increase fracking, eliminate “clean energy” subsidies, and stop harassing the food-producing and job-creating pig and cattle factories that may have some marginal polluting effects on their surrounding areas.
    5) Eliminate anti-discrimination laws and rules protecting minorities, women, lgbtq people and those with disabilities. It is time to stop victimizing white people and end the practice of teaching kindergartners to be transgender and that white people, who have made this country great, may not be the #1/best race of all time. Roll back immigration, especially from you-know-where, except for workers in the pig factories.
    6) Eliminate corrupt elections like the one that stole the presidency from Donald Trump by turning over management of elections to the (permanently) Republican controlled legislature.

    The good news for Republicans is that we may be just an election or two away from fulfilling their dreams. Their only challenge then will be to find new scapegoats to blame for the disastrous human, economic and environmental consequences of their policies. But, by that time, Ron Johnson will have retired to Florida and lie about all of his prior positions, like trying to rig the 2020 election.

  4. RetiredResident says:

    Just another tactic in the long-standing Republican goal of eliminating both.

  5. ringo muldano says:

    NWK. You’re so full of $hit, you’re eyes are brown.

  6. Mingus says:

    I think the Federal tax breaks for big business like the oil industry should be reviewed for every budget to see if they are needed.

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