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PolitiFact FL: Does Rick Scott want to ‘end’ Social Security? Mucarsel-Powell overstates old plan

Sen. Rick Scott speaks during a political conference.
Jose Luis Magana
/
AP
Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., speaks during the Conservative Political Action Conference, CPAC 2023, at the National Harbor, in Oxon Hill, Md., Thursday, March 2, 2023.

WLRN has partnered with PolitiFact to fact-check Florida politicians. The Pulitzer Prize-winning team seeks to present the true facts, unaffected by agenda or biases.

When former U.S. Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell announced her Senate campaign to unseat Florida Republican Sen. Rick Scott in 2024, she bashed his views on abortion, taxes and programs like Social Security and Medicare.

Mucarsel-Powell, who flipped a South Florida U.S. House seat in 2018 and then lost reelection, claimed on her Senate campaign website that Scott "wants to … end Social Security and Medicare coverage." She repeated a similar claim in Spanish.

Democrats have been lobbing similar attacks at Scott since he proposed a broad policy plan in 2022 that included a means by which federal programs could end, unless Congress renewed them. But Mucarsel-Powell’s claim misleadingly suggests this is what Scott is campaigning on today; he has made it clear he isn’t.

Scott’s initial plan didn’t directly call for ending either program outright, but left the option open by requiring that all federal legislation expire every five years unless Congress decided to renew. After mounting criticism from Democrats and members of his own party, Scott revised the plan to exclude both programs.

Multiple experts agreed that, had Social Security and Medicare been left in, their end would have been likely, given the difficulty of Congress passing and renewing expansive packages.

When we asked Mucarsel-Powell’s campaign for evidence that Scott wants to end Social Security and Medicare, it pointed to his plan’s original wording, and the time and circumstances that it took for him to revise it.

Scott decided to exclude Social Security and Medicare from his plan in February, about a year after he proposed it, following aggressive pushback.

Mucarsel-Powell’s campaign spokesperson, Michelle Gajewski, also referred to a June 2022 video Scott released after his plan was criticized in which he said, "I apologize to absolutely no one."

But Scott has since maintained that the programs were never intended to be included, and that Democrats, and some Republicans, blew it out of proportion.

It’s worth noting that Mucarsel-Powell described Scott’s position a bit more carefully in her campaign's Aug. 22 promotional video, saying that Scott "wrote the plan that could take away the Social Security and Medicare you worked and paid for."

Richard Johnson, a Social Security expert at the Urban Institute, a social policy research think tank, said Scott’s revised plan would affect neither program, but would have "effectively ended" them if included.

"There’s no indication that Sen. Scott wants to sunset Social Security and Medicare every five years given his current plan," said Emerson Sprick, a senior economic analyst at the Bipartisan Policy Center, a nonpartisan think tank. "But sunsetting anything after five years — whether or not that ends the program — would depend on whether Congress acted to renew. I think having to revisit every piece of legislation every five years would be a big ask."

What’s happening with Social Security and Medicare

For more than half a century, Social Security and Medicare have been two of the most politically sacrosanct programs in the U.S. — politicians from both parties are generally loath to propose changes.

Social Security provides income for retirement to people ages 62 and older, with full benefits kicking in when they turn 67. Almost 67 million Americans this year will receive Social Security payments, totaling about $1.4 trillion.

Medicare is federal health insurance for people older than 65 and others with certain disabilities or conditions. More than 4.8 million Floridians were enrolled in Medicare in 2021, the second-highest state total in the country after California.

But data shows that if nothing changes to bolster the programs, Social Security trust funds will run out by 2034 and beneficiaries will get smaller monthly checks.

Experts say it will take increased revenue or decreased benefits to keep Social Security financially sound, with a solution likely requiring a mix of both.

Scott’s ‘Rescue America’ plan

In February 2022, Scott unveiled his broad policy agenda proposing all federal legislation sunsets in five years unless renewed by Congress if it’s "worth keeping." Federal sunsetting means programs and agencies would periodically terminate unless explicitly renewed by law, according to the Congressional Research Service.

Although Scott’s plan didn’t specify Social Security and Medicare, both programs were created through federal legislation generations ago. The plan’s only mention of either program comes in the same section, labeled Government Reform/Debt: "Force Congress to issue a report every year telling the public what they plan to do when Social Security and Medicare go bankrupt."

Scott got little support from his party on the idea and President Joe Biden repeatedly alluded to it in speeches. "We will not have, as part of our agenda, a bill that raises taxes on half the American people and sunsets Social Security and Medicare within five years," Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said in March 2022.

Scott revised the proposal in February 2023, writing in a Washington Examiner op-ed that Social Security and Medicare were "obviously not intended" to be included in the sunsetting provision.

"I believe that all federal legislation should sunset in five years," he wrote, "with specific exceptions for Social Security, Medicare, national security, veterans’ benefits, and other essential services. If a law is worth keeping, Congress can pass it again." He added: "I have never supported cutting Social Security or Medicare, ever."

Scott’s campaign told us something similar, and that he’s called on Congress to address how it plans to protect the programs.

The Urban Institute’s Johnson said Congress members generally support Social Security and Medicare, because they are so popular, but added that passing these types of packages is a big lift.

"I don’t want to overstate the chances that the programs would end. But it’s hard to get any legislation through Congress, creating a real possibility that Scott’s original proposal could have created a gap in Social Security and Medicare benefits," he said.

Alicia Munnell, director of the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, said that Scott’s original plan appears to have been written carelessly, "and that’s a big problem when talking about programs that are so basic to the well-being of older Americans."

"It’s not a position he wanted to stand by," she said.

Our ruling

Mucarsel-Powell said Scott "wants to … end Social Security and Medicare coverage."

Scott’s original plan didn’t call for ending either program directly, but left the option available if Congress chose not to renew them every five years. After facing criticism, Scott revised his plan to explicitly exclude the programs.

Mucarsel-Powell’s statement contains an element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression. We rate the claim Mostly False.

Our Sources

Samantha Putterman is a fact-checker for PolitiFact based in Florida reporting on misinformation with a focus on abortion and public health.
Marta Campabadal is a reporter at PolitiFact focused on Spanish-speaking misinformation.
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