As he mulls a 2024 presidential bid, former Vice President Mike Pence on Tuesday called for “common sense and compassionate solutions" to reform entitlement programs and the nation's debt burden, suggesting changes to Social Security and Medicare programs hurtling toward insolvency, particularly for younger generations, without naming specific recommendations.
“What we need now is leadership because, if we act in this moment with the support of this generation, we can introduce common sense reforms that will never touch anyone who is in retirement, or anyone who will retire in the next 25 years,” Pence told an audience of college students at Washington & Lee University in Lexington, Virginia. “It’ll just take courage to do it, and that’s where your generation will come in.”
What to do with Social Security and Medicare, as the programs close in on projected insolvency dates, has emerged as a dividing line for Republicans seeking to lead their party in the 2024 presidential contest.
Forecasters say Social Security won’t be able to pay out its promised benefits in about a dozen years, and Medicare won’t be able to do so in just five years. Economists say both programs will drive the national debt higher in the decades to come, forcing teeth-gritting choices for the next generation of lawmakers.
Pence — yet to announce a 2024 presidential bid but saying Tuesday he was “continuing to pray and reflect” on one — has previously suggested tweaks for the programs, telling CNBC in February that cuts to Medicare and Social Security should be “on the table for the long term.”
“President Biden won’t even discuss common sense reforms of Social Security and Medicare, and too many leaders in my political party take the same position,” Pence said during remarks at Washington & Lee's quadrennial mock presidential nominating convention known as Mock Con. It predicts the presidential nominee of the party out of power in the White House.
“If that frustrates you, good — it should, because it’ll be your generation that’s robbed of your dreams and opportunities," he said.
Pence's ideas are broadly in line with former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, already in the 2024 GOP race, who last week opened the door to potential cuts for younger generations. During a campaign rally in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, Haley said that, while she wouldn’t touch the benefits of older people who retired with certain guarantees of a financial future, “the rules have changed” for “anyone new coming in this system.”
Other Republicans likely vying for the party's nomination disagree. At the Conservative Political Action Conference this month, former President Donald Trump — officially mounting a third run — took a veiled jab at Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, calling out those who have proposed raising the age for Social Security or privatizing Medicare — positions DeSantis has expressed support for in the past but has since abandoned.
“We’re not going to mess with Social Security as Republicans,” DeSantis, yet to announce a 2024 run, recently said.
Many leading Republicans have recently sought to signal their unwillingness to touch entitlement programs, though the GOP has a long history of threatening to slash the benefits. Democrats have pointed to a plan by Republican Sen. Rick Scott of Florida, introduced last year but later amended, that called for all federal spending legislation to sunset in five years, subject to votes in Congress that could preserve programs.
Met with boos from congressional Republicans when he said during his State of the Union address that “some Republicans want Medicare and Social Security to sunset," President Joe Biden last week took aim at “MAGA” Republicans he said are intent on dialing back Medicare coverage for millions of Americans, promising to “defend and strengthen” the programs.
After Biden’s speech, Scott amended the plan to exempt Social Security, Medicare, national security, veterans benefits and other essential services.
Meg Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP