Biden promises to defend social programmes in Florida speech

United States President Joe Biden has pitched himself as a defender of retirement and healthcare programmes during a speech in the southern state of Florida, promising to protect Medicare and Social Security against any proposed cuts by Republicans.

Speaking in the city of Tampa, Biden, a Democrat, leaned into statements he had previously made that the rival party could not be trusted to safeguard government benefits.

“Look, I know that a lot of Republicans, their dream is to cut Social Security, Medicare. Well, let me say this. If that’s your dream, I’m your nightmare,” he told the audience at the University of Tampa.

Biden is widely speculated to be preparing for a reelection bid in 2024. In his remarks on Wednesday, he appealed to older Americans, noting that Florida has the highest percentage of senior citizens in the US, along with Maine.

In the US, Medicare is a federal health insurance programme for people ages 65 and up that is also available to certain younger people with disabilities. Social Security, meanwhile, provides benefits for retirement, disability and dependents whose family members pass away.

Biden also reiterated on Wednesday his previous pledge to lower the prices of prescription drugs like insulin, a medication used to treat diabetes. Biden has proposed limiting out-of-pocket costs for insulin to $35 a month.

“Bringing down prescription drug costs doesn’t just save seniors money. It would cut the federal budget by hundreds of billions of dollars. Not a joke,” he said to applause.

The proposal builds on prescription drug reform included in the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act, which placed caps on some drug prices. In Wednesday’s speech, Biden touted that law and other accomplishments from his first two years in office.

“Folks on fixed incomes rely on Social Security and Medicare to get by. They deserve a greater sense of security and dignity and that’s what my plan offers,” said Biden.

“I signed the Inflation Reduction Act and took on the most powerful interest we’ve been fighting for years, pharma, to bring down healthcare costs so you can have a better night’s sleep.”

The Tampa speech comes as Biden travels to key swing states in the wake of the annual State of the Union address, held before the US Congress on Tuesday.

During the State of the Union, Biden hammered home the message that he would defend popular government programmes that benefit elderly and low-income people. He also accused “some Republicans” of trying to “sunset” Medicare and Social Security, an assertion that provoked boos from conservative members in the audience.

Biden revisited that moment in his Tampa speech, saying: “We saw on Tuesday night Republicans don’t like being called out on this.”

The event in Florida comes amid questions of whether Biden’s Democratic Party remains competitive in the southern swing state, which tilted in favour of Republican candidate Donald Trump in the last two presidential elections.

Biden has said that the state’s large population of elderly retirees could see their benefits cut by Republican legislators, a claim the GOP has disputed.

Rick Scott, one of Florida’s two representatives in the US Senate, had previously proposed that, every five years, federal legislation should “sunset” or expire. “If a law is worth keeping, Congress can pass it again,” Scott said in a statement on Wednesday.

Critics of Scott’s proposal fear it would affect programmes like Medicare and Social Security. But Scott has called such claims untrue, saying he is “not for cutting Social Security or Medicare”.

Before his time in office, Scott accumulated substantial wealth as the head of a hospital conglomerate that was later made to pay $1.7bn to settle federal charges that the company had enriched itself by defrauding Medicare and Medicaid. Scott has denied that he was aware of any wrongdoing during his tenure.

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters that Republican legislators “have continuously said over the years, and especially the last several months, that they want to cut those two key benefits”.

Speaking in the state of Wisconsin on Wednesday, the day after the State of the Union address, Biden promised not to enact cuts to the programmes.

“These benefits belong to you, the American worker,” said Biden. “You earned it. And I will not allow anyone to cut them. Not today, not tomorrow, not ever, period.”

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