Photography: J Scott Applewhite/AP
A Republican senator from an undecided state has denied threatening Social Security and Medicare after Democrats accused him of putting them “on the chopping block.”
Related: ‘I can’t live on $709 a month’: Americans on Social Security push for its expansion
Ron Johnson, who entered Congress on the 2010 Tea Party wave, is running for re-election in Wisconsin. While trying to maintain control of the Senate, Democrats think they have a shot at winning the seat.
In an interview with The Regular Joe Show podcast, Johnson said Social Security and Medicare, crucial support programs for millions of elderly and disabled Americans and their dependents, should no longer be considered mandatory spending.
“If you qualify for the right, you get it, no matter the cost,” Johnson said. “And our problem in this country is that over 70% of our federal budget, of our federal spending, is all mandatory spending. It’s on autopilot…you just don’t do the proper supervision. You don’t go in there and fix the programs that go bankrupt.”
He added: “What we should do is turn everything into discretionary spending so that everything is evaluated so we can fix problems or fix programs that are broken, that are going to fail. As long as things are on autopilot, we will continue to accumulate debt.”
Democrats attacked. Chuck Schumer of New York, the Senate Majority Leader, referred to Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan when he said: “They are saying the silent part out loud. Maga Republicans want to put Social Security and Medicare on the chopping block.”
A spokesperson for Johnson said Schumer was “lying”.
The spokesperson said Johnson’s point “is that without the fiscal discipline and oversight typically found with discretionary spending, Congress has allowed guaranteed benefits for programs like Social Security and Medicare to be threatened.
“This must be addressed by Congress, taking seriously its responsibilities to ensure that seniors do not have to question whether the programs they depend on remain solvent.”
Social security payments average just over $1,600 a month.
Last year, Nancy Altman, president of Social Security Works, told the Guardian: “The nation is really facing a retirement income crisis where many people will not be able to retire and keep their savings to live. It’s a very strong system, but its benefits are extremely low by just about any way of measuring it.”
Democrats see Republican threats to so-called “entitlements” — programs paid for by taxes and used by vulnerable people — as a potent election issue. Polls show strong bipartisan support.
From Joe Biden to leaders in Congress, Democrats have adopted a plan published by Rick Scott of Florida, chairman of the Republican Senate campaign committee.
Scott proposed that all Americans should pay some income tax and that all federal laws should expire after five years if Congress does not renew them.
The senator insisted he “is not going to raise anybody’s taxes” – despite saying that more people should pay taxes. He also said Congress “needs to start being honest with the American public and telling them exactly what we’re going to do to make sure they continue to get their Medicare and their Social Security.”
But its own Senate leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, said: “We will not have, as part of our agenda, a bill that raises taxes on half the American people and ends Social Security and Medicare in five years. ”.
Wisconsin will hold its primaries on Tuesday. Johnson is being challenged by the current lieutenant governor, Mandela Barnes.
Jessica Taylor of the Cook Political Report told Wisconsin Public Radio that Johnson was the “Number 1 incumbent of the National Democrats … that they are targeting.”