Former President Donald Trump launched a pre-emptive attack against a likely rival for the Republican presidential nomination who repeatedly voted in Congress for non-binding budget resolutions that privatized Medicare and raised the retirement age to 70.
Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis is being called a “wheelchair over the cliff kind of guy” for supporting congressional proposals that would have ended Medicare as we know it and slashed Social Security benefits for millions of Americans.
DeSantis won re-election to a second term after raising substantially more money than Charlie Crist, a 66-year-old Democrat who had previously served as a Republican governor of Florida from 2007 to 2011, and harnessing the power of incumbency to control the media and even have Democrats arrested for voting.
Since that dominant victory made him a favorite among GOP donors, DeSantis is a threat to Trump, who announced that he is seeking the Republican presidential nomination for a third time in 2024.
In his State of the Union speech, President Joe Biden criticized Republicans, saying “their dream is to cut Social Security and Medicare,” based on Florida Senator Rick Scott’s plan for cutting the programs as a way to balance the federal budget.
After decades of talk of scaling back the popular federal entitlement programs for older Americans, Scott abandoned that approach following Biden’s speech, acknowledging the political risks of shrinking benefits relied on by millions of voters. Scott’s plan also initially called for raising taxes on nearly half of American families, before the Florida Republican retreated from that idea.
In an abrupt retreat, Scott explicitly walled off Social Security and Medicare from his proposal to terminate all federal programs every five years and subject them to congressional review, but the governor of Florida will not be able to escape a record that has consistently championed measures that would harm Medicare and Social Security beneficiaries.
DeSantis expressed support for privatizing Medicare and Social Security during his first campaign for Congress in 2012,
DeSantis’ office refused to comment on his Social Security and Medicare position but during his 2012 congressional campaign, he repeatedly said he supported plans to replace the national health insurance with a system in which the government paid for partial costs of private plans or a traditional Medicare plan.
In one interview with a local newspaper, DeSantis said he supported “the same thing” for Social Security, citing the need for “market forces” to restructure the program.
DeSantis embraced then-Rep. Paul Ryan’s 2012 budget plan, which turned Medicare into a “voucher” system,
“I would embrace proposals like [Rep.] Paul Ryan offered, and other people have offered, that are going to provide some market forces in there, more consumer choice, and make it so that it’s not just basically a system that’s just going to be bankrupt when you have new people coming into it,” DeSantis told the St. Augustine Record in a video that was posted on YouTube at the time.
“Social Security, I would do the same thing,” he added, later saying it was “unsustainable” to allow seniors to retire in their late 60s.
“I think people who are low income will probably be given coverage that is similar to what they have now,” he said in the interview with the St. Augustine Record. “I think people like me, who’ve been more successful, it’s not even that I will have to pay more. I will have premium support that’s going to guarantee me a certain amount of coverage.”
“If you want something over and above that, if you want a Cadillac plan or something, then I do think it should be driven by the consumer rather than imposed on the taxpayers,” he added. “And I just think that that makes sense.”
At the time, DeSantis was a Tea Party fiscal conservative, running with the backing of conservative groups like Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum, FreedomWorks, the Club for Growth, and the Madison Project.
After getting elected, DeSantis said he hoped Congress would take on restructuring entitlements when asked about Social Security and Medicare.
“I think we need to restructure some of these entitlements. Get it in a way that they’re sustainable over the long term,” said DeSantis, who supported an even more drastic Republican Study Committee’s budget proposal.
To achieve such cuts, as the Committee for the Responsible Budget detailed back then, required changing Medicare to a partially private system by 2019 and raising the retirement age to 70. It would have also increased the full retirement age for Social Security to 70.
“I guess people are finding out that he wanted to CUT SOCIAL SECURITY & RAISE THE MINIMUM AGE TO AT LEAST 70, at least 4 times. LIKEWISE WITH MEDICARE, WANTED BIG CUTS,” said Trump on his Truth Social account in reference to leading in several polls against DeSantis. “HE IS A WHEELCHAIR OVER THE CLIFF KIND OF GUY, JUST LIKE HIS HERO, failed politician Paul Ryan, the FoxNews ratings destroyer who led Mitt Romney’s Presidential Campaign down the tubes.”
The comments about being a wheelchair-over-the-cliff kind of guy refer to a cartoon of President George W Bush pushing a grandmother in a wheelchair over a cliff, which was drawn in response to the Republican’s planned Social Security privatization scheme.