Social Security, Medicare are on the rocks - and no leader in either party wants to step up

'You have to have a president who's engaged,' Sen Bill Cassidy says

Medicare and Social Security reform were once top policy items for officials in charge of the country’s fiscal health, but the growing political cost of even discussing entitlement reform has prompted politicians to drop the issue entirely.

"You just open yourself up to potshots," Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., told Fox News Digital about the idea of pushing for entitlement reform. "Politically, it is a losing position."

Cassidy is the top Republican on the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. This year, he was also a leader in a bipartisan working group for a proposal to extend the life of Social Security – which projections say could be insolvent by 2033.

However, he said President Biden has made it clear he is not interested in even bipartisan proposals to ensure the sustainability of Social Security.

"You have to have a president who's engaged in order to accomplish any of this," Cassidy said. "And if we have a president as we do now, who doesn't want to do anything – Oh, he makes the right comments, but when you look at his proposals, they're not serious – then there's no reason to do anything."


Trump and Biden split image

Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., says the current and previous administration failed to address Social Security reforms in time, and that it is an issue leaders are running from. (Getty Images / Getty Images)

Former President Clinton took steps to extend the life of Medicare during his administration. His successor, former President George W. Bush, made Social Security reform efforts a core pillar. Even former President Obama attempted to improve Social Security finances by changing certain cost-of-living metrics.

Now, Cassidy stands among the few on Capitol Hill calling for active measures to extend the solvency of core entitlements, specifically Social Security. Democrat-fueled accusations that Republicans wanted to gut Social Security and Medicare during debt limit negotiations were so potent, that House Speaker Kevin McCarthy swore they were off the table at the time.

Cassidy has knocked Biden on multiple occasions for failing to take what he considers a reasonable approach to Social Security reform.


"Biden came out in his State of the Union speech and didn't speak about the proposal which had bipartisan support, which… we briefed his office on," Cassidy said. "He came out at the State of Union didn’t speak on our bipartisan proposal, but rather on Rick Scott's proposal, which Rick actually walked back from. So you know, at that point, the politics were clear.

"He's running for re-election," Cassidy said. "He's going to attack Republicans… and we're not going to get his cooperation on our bipartisan proposal. Without a president at the table, you're wasting your time."

However, Cassidy said former President Trump also failed to pay any attention "at all" to the issue.

"Anybody who even talks about doing anything on Socia Security, [Trump] begins to criticize them for cutting the program, allegedly cutting the program," he said, adding that both Trump and Biden’s inaction is effectively "advocating" for a 24% cut in benefits – the current law once the Social Security trust fund runs out of money and payments are based on current tax collections.

Bill Cassidy

U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., said President Biden's effort to blame the GOP for cutting benefits closed off the issue to debate. (Photo by Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images / Getty Images)

"I just think it’s a difficult issue. You’ve got to be honest with the American people, so if there’s one person being dishonest, or in this case two people being dishonest, it’s really hard to push back on and say well, we’ve always heard that social is going to go insolvent, it’s never happened," Cassidy said. "Now it’s about nine years away."

Entitlement and welfare reform have traditionally been central ideas to conservative fiscal policy. However, economists who spoke with Fox News Digital said the Republican Party was shifting away from those issues to match its major demographic shift around 2016.


"You can credit Trump with some of this, but it's bringing blue collar workers into the base of the Republican Party," suggested Paul Winfree, an Americans For Prosperity advisory board member and former Trump administration economist.

"And it's this base that not only is more likely to be reliant on Social Security and Medicare in general, but they're also more likely to be reliant on Social Security and Medicare today," he said. "And they just so happen to be the same folks who were in the prime of their working lives in the late 90s and the early 2000s," 

"Fast forward 20 years, when now they're retiring, and they're collecting Social Security, and they're on the Medicare program," he said. "And now all of the sudden, if you go to these folks and say, ‘Social Security and Medicare are unsustainable, and we need to reform them’…their initial comment is, ‘Well, wait a minute. I remember when the budgets were balanced… Where did it go? What did you do with the money?'"

Former President George W. Bush and other past leaders made Social Security sustainability an issue, but the last two administrations have wavered. (DOUG MILLS/AFP via Getty Images / Getty Images)

Maya MacGuineas, of the bipartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, pointed to Trump shifting the narrative as one of the main drivers behind the change and suggested Biden was wary of departing from it as he runs for re-election.

"A huge shift came when President Trump promised instead of to fix Social Security and Medicare, not to fix them, not to touch them. And then the bulk of the Republican Party went along, and there was suddenly a huge, noteworthy silence of nobody talking about how these programs are headed towards insolvency," MacGuineas said.

"And you now have President Biden also promising not to touch the programs, and a presidential race which may well focus on how people aren't going to fix Social Security and Medicare instead of how they would… to be a huge detriment of, in particular, people who depend on those programs," she said.

Republicans trying to do something now will likely be met with Democrats using entitlement reform as a "toxic narrative," Winfree said.

Medicare protest

Hundreds of New York City retirees protest outside City Hall on Broadway over proposed changes to their health retirement benefits. (Photo by Luiz C. Ribeiro for NY Daily News via Getty Images / Getty Images)

"Every time anybody talks about, you know, reforms needed, reforms to Medicare and Social Security, you have Democrats talking about how they're pushing grandma off a cliff," Winfree said.


MacGuineas, like Sen. Cassidy, insisted that a lack of decisive leadership on the matter at the top has stalled most meaningful attempts at reform on both sides of the aisle.

"Good policy isn't good politics. What they're finding is that promising things that aren't possible or aren't good for recipients, still makes good politics, and you have both parties competing over that," she said. "Public opinion on these issues always follows leadership."

"Unless you have leadership at the top that's willing to be honest… the public is understandably scared about losing benefits that they depend on, and so you need a truth teller at the top," she said.