Rick Scott exempts Social Security, Medicare from his sunset proposal after bipartisan criticism

The U.S. senator from Florida has been rebuked by President Joe Biden and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
U.S. Sen. Rick Scott speaks to reporters during a round table discussion at the Sun Towers Retirement Community on Friday, Feb. 10, 2023, in Sun City Center.
U.S. Sen. Rick Scott speaks to reporters during a round table discussion at the Sun Towers Retirement Community on Friday, Feb. 10, 2023, in Sun City Center. [ JEFFEREE WOO | Times ]
Published Feb. 17|Updated March 23

Following a year of bipartisan heat that has recently turned scorching, U.S. Sen. Rick Scott added concrete caveats to his position that all federal programs should automatically “sunset” every five years so Congress has to reapprove them.

Florida’s junior senator said Friday that while he thinks most federal legislation should have to go through this process, he believes in “specific exceptions for Social Security, Medicare, national security, veterans’ benefits, and other essential services.”

Scott’s original idea to require the regular renewal of federal programs was part of his “Rescue America” plan that he released in February 2022 when he was the head of Senate Republicans’ campaign operation. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, as well as some of Scott’s colleagues seeking reelection, quickly distanced themselves from the proposal as Democrats hammered the messaging that it would put Social Security and Medicare at risk for the seniors who rely on them.

This month, President Joe Biden reinvigorated scrutiny on Scott when he said during his State of the Union address that “some Republicans want Medicare and Social Security to sunset.” He then visited Tampa where he called out Scott by name and his staff distributed pamphlets made to look like miniature versions of Scott’s plan. On the same day, McConnell said during a radio interview that it was a “bad idea” that could threaten Scott’s reelection prospects.

Scott’s adjustment Friday came in an opinion piece published by the Washington Examiner. He wrote that plank of his plan “was obviously not intended to include entitlement programs such as Medicare and Social Security — programs that hard-working people have paid into their entire lives — or the funds dedicated to our national security.” He blamed Democrats for spreading a “disingenuous lie” about his plan and McConnell for participating in “gotcha politics.”

Related: Does Joe Biden or Rick Scott want to cut Social Security, Medicare? The fight, explained.

“Everyone outside of Washington perfectly understood what my plan was trying to accomplish, but that hasn’t stopped Washington politicians from doing what they do best — lying to you every chance they get,” Scott added, before the key paragraph where he mentions the “specific exceptions.” He also blamed the “Washington establishment” in both parties for the country’s ballooning national debt and for not having a plan to address financial uncertainty for the massive retirement programs.

This was not the first time Scott has revised his platform in response to criticism. Last summer, he backed down from a piece suggesting that all Americans should pay “some income tax,” an ambiguous statement that suggested imposing new taxes on millions of people, which Scott acknowledged was “poorly worded.”

Scott is running for reelection in 2024, declining to make a presidential bid that many insiders had expected. He had a particularly bruising 2022 cycle: Republicans failed to flip the Senate with Scott heading its campaign arm, and he unsuccessfully challenged McConnell for his leadership position.