If there’s one state where people must truly appreciate the importance of Social Security and Medicare, it’s Florida. Nearly 5 million Floridians rely on these programs for financial and health security every day.
For many seniors in the Sunshine State, their Social Security checks — averaging a modest $1,625 per month — can make the difference between financial survival and falling into poverty. Without Medicare, most Florida seniors would not have affordable health insurance and access to quality medical care.
How ironic, then, that Florida’s own Sen. Rick Scott would propose a plan that could bring an end to Social Security and Medicare as we know them.
Scott has proposed that, should the Republican Party regain the majority in Congress, all federal laws should be reauthorized every five years. That includes Social Security and Medicare. For either program to continue, Congress would have to vote to re-enact both — an outcome that would be far from guaranteed. And even if Social Security and Medicare were reauthorized, opponents of these programs would have an opportunity to cut earned benefits every five years. Fiscal conservatives have long been skeptical of federal programs that help society’s most vulnerable, but Scott’s proposal goes beyond skepticism to outright recklessness.
During his 2010 gubernatorial campaign in Florida, Scott advocated privatizing Medicare, Medicaid and veterans’ health services. He seemed sympathetic to the idea of privatizing Social Security, as well. As a U.S. senator, Scott has earned a zero rating on the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare’s legislative scorecard. His record makes clear that wealthy and corporate interests hold greater sway with him than older working and middle-class Americans.
Seniors’ advocates have good reason to be alarmed. As chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, Scott is charged with winning back the GOP majority in that body. His proposal would have enormous sway with Senate Republicans should their party regain power. That is something that Florida voters — especially seniors — should take seriously.
Florida has a lot to lose under Scott’s proposal. If Social Security and Medicare were not reauthorized, one third of the state’s seniors could tumble into poverty. Both state and local governments (and businesses) would lose millions of dollars in economic stimulus from Social Security payments. Half a million seniors could lose their health insurance, including prescription drug coverage. Wealthier seniors would be fine, but the rest would be out of luck. Millions of Floridians would be denied a healthier and more financially secure retirement.
Seniors should be wary of politicians who claim to support Social Security and Medicare, but also advocate policies that would undermine both programs. Scott’s is the boldest and most egregious to date. But for years his party has promoted privatizing both programs, raising eligibility ages, and other benefit cuts — preferably by special committees behind closed doors.
This November, the only candidates who deserve seniors’ support are the ones who reject those wrongheaded proposals and commit to protecting the benefits that Americans have earned over a lifetime of work.
Max Richtman is president and CEO of the nonprofit National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, an advocacy and education organization with 105,000 members and supporters in Florida.