During his State of the Union address, President Joe Biden harshly criticized proposals by some Republicans that would cut back on Medicare and Social Security, or require the programs to be reapproved by Congress every five years.
The latter proposal, by Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), would “sunset” all federal legislation – meaning any law, including the ones that created Medicare and Social Security, would automatically expire after five years unless Congress voted to renew it.
Several VERIFY viewers said they heard that Biden himself, while a senator, introduced a proposal similar to Scott’s.
Did Biden ever propose legislation that would sunset Social Security and Medicare?
Yes, in 1975 then-Senator Biden introduced a bill that would require all federal spending to face review and reauthorization every 4-6 years. That includes Social Security and Medicare.
WHAT WE FOUND
In the 1970s, members of both parties became increasingly concerned by growth in federal spending, and sought ways to slow or trim it. One popular idea: sunset proposals, which require federal programs be reviewed periodically in order to keep their funding.
In 1975, Joe Biden, as the senator from Delaware, introduced S. 2067, a sunsetting proposal with four main components.
First, it made any future federal spending last at most four years, before requiring reapproval from Congress.
Second, any federal spending that was already approved would automatically expire after either four or six years unless Congress reauthorized it. The four-year requirement would be for programs with pre-set end dates more than four years out. The six-year requirement would be for programs with no pre-set end date, meaning they were originally funded in perpetuity, like Medicare and Social Security.
Third, before Congress could reapprove spending programs, it would have to conduct a review of the program. That review, the bill said, should consider how effective the program is, whether it was staying true to its original purpose, and whether other programs might be more effective instead.
Biden’s bill never came to a vote. Also, like Scott’s original proposal, Biden’s did not specifically mention Medicare or Social Security – which are popular programs unlikely to fail a reauthorization vote – but nonetheless would apply to them.
When introducing the bill to the Senate, Biden argued for it by saying: “We must… begin reviewing existing programs to determine whether they are still effective, and whether they are worth the money that we are putting in them. We must eliminate the wasteful ones.”
“One thing that we have all observed is that once a federal program gets started, it is very difficult to stop it, or even change its emphasis, regardless of its performance in the past,” he continued. “It is time for us to require, on a regular and continuing basis, that both the administrators of these programs and we legislators who adopt the programs, examine their operations with care and detail.”
The Biden administration did not immediately respond to VERIFY’s request for comment.
But asked about the proposal, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters on Feb. 9 that regardless of his proposals in 1975, Biden’s current stance on Medicare and Social Security is clear.
"The president ran on protecting Medicare and Social Security from cuts, and he reiterated that in the State of the Union,” she reportedly said. “He's been very clear these past couple of years. Rick Scott has the opposite point.”
Sen. Scott has since updated the text of his own proposal to specifically exempt “Social Security, Medicare, national security, veterans benefits, and other essential services.”