A TV ad for Adam Putnam narrated by Florida seniors says that while President Donald Trump has their back, U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis doesn’t.
"Congressman DeSantis voted to cut Social Security and Medicare," said one senior.
"DeSantis even voted to increase the retirement age," said another man.
Putnam and DeSantis will face off in an Aug. 28 primary. (While the ad tries to link Putnam to Trump, the president has endorsed DeSantis.) Multiple Democrats are also running in their own primary.
The ad was referring to votes DeSantis took on budget resolutions between 2013 and 2015.
DeSantis did vote on nonbinding budget resolutions that called for raising the retirement age and slowing the rate at which future spending would grow. Whether that is a "cut" is debatable.
Putnam’s campaign cited three votes DeSantis cast in favor of budget proposals by the Republican Study Committee in 2013, 2014 and 2015. All three were considered the more conservative budget proposals, and all three failed.
The first thing to know about budget resolutions is that even if they pass, they aren’t law.
"Resolutions themselves do nothing to change law, do nothing to change benefit levels," said Marc Goldwein, senior vice president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. "All they do is set out a plan."
An analysis by the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget stated that the 2013 budget plan transitioned Medicare to a premium support system by 2019 for new beneficiaries, and raised the Medicare retirement age to 70 and indexed it to life expectancy. It also included this policy statement: "Current Medicare benefits are preserved for those in or near retirement."
For Social Security, the proposal called for switching to another method for cost of living adjustments economists consider more accurate, known as chained CPI, and increasing the full retirement age to 70 and indexing it for life expectancy. The budget would have led to savings relative to the baseline of $129 billion in Medicare and $126 billion in Social Security over 10 years.
The legislation would have balanced the budget in four years, as opposed to U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan’s plan, which set out to balance the budget in 10 years.
The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget referred to these savings as "cuts" but that requires further explanation.
To determine whether this resolution would have actually led to a cut would have depended upon the particulars in any separate legislation that actually became law. It’s possible to reduce future without cutting benefits seniors are getting today, Goldwein said. For example, the government could cut what it pays to providers.
The proposed change to use chained CPI for inflation would not lower seniors’ Social Security checks. It would mean that their checks grow at a slower rate in the future.
Putnam’s ad omits that we face some challenges in funding these programs in the future. Projections show that both Medicare and Social Security lack fiscal balance. It’s likely Congress will have to make changes to current law in the coming years.
While it's common for a candidate to attack another for trying to do anything to bring the systems into balance, the bottom line is that either Congress will have to slow the growth of the program, raise taxes, or both, said Eugene Steuerle, a tax expert at the Urban Institute. "The growth that is built into the systems like Social Security and Medicare is unsustainable," he said.
The Republican Study Committee tried to acknowledge the problem of future insolvency, calling for Congress to come up with a plan to protect the program and those in or near retirement.
DeSantis doesn’t support changes to Social Security or Medicare for current recipients or those nearing retirement, said his office spokeswoman Elizabeth Dillon.
She pointed to his effort to help seniors by reintroducing the Let Seniors Work Act in 2015, which sought to eliminate the payroll taxes for seniors.
A Putnam TV ad said, "Congressman DeSantis voted to cut Social Security and Medicare" and "voted to increase the retirement age."
DeSantis voted for three Republican Study Committee budget resolutions in 2013, 2014 and 2015 that failed. Even if they had passed, nonbinding resolutions alone do not change law, and therefore don’t cut any seniors’ benefits.
Whether a vote for the resolutions is a "cut" depends upon how you define a cut. They were a cut in terms of the programs’ future growth relative to the baseline. But the goal of these resolutions was to persuade Congress to make changes to shore up these programs in the future to avoid steeper cuts down the road.
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