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Ron Johnson calls for turning Social Security, Medicare into discretionary spending programs

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Saying programs like Social Security and Medicare suffer from improper oversight, U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson on Tuesday called for turning every government program into discretionary spending programs, meaning Congress would have to allocate funding for the programs each year.

Such an effort could lead to yearly battles over the programs — fights that some Republicans say are necessary to cut down on government spending, while many Democrats consider the programs to be some of the nation’s most beneficial.

Text exchanges revealed by the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack show a staffer for U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson seeking to have Johnson hand a slate of fake Republican electors to Vice President Mike Pence moments before the joint session of Congress certifiying Joe Biden's win in 2020.

Spending on many defense and education programs has long been discretionary, but programs like Social Security and Medicare are mandatory spending programs, which don’t need congressional authorization every year. Social Security and many other mandatory spending programs are indefinitely in effect.

“What’s mandatory are things like Social Security and Medicare,” Johnson, R-Oshkosh, said on the “Regular Joe” show Tuesday. “If you qualify for the entitlement, you just get it no matter what the cost. And our problem in this country is that more than 70% of our federal budget, of our federal spending, is all mandatory spending. It’s on automatic pilot.

“It never, you just don’t do proper oversight. You don’t get in there and fix the programs going bankrupt, it’s just on automatic pilot. What we ought to be doing is we ought to turn everything into discretionary spending so it’s all evaluated so that we can fix problems or fix programs that are broken.

“Again, as long as things are on automatic pilot we just continue to pile up debt,” Johnson added, saying massive deficit spending was sparking inflation.

Johnson’s comments came during a conversation about a measure to expand medical care eligibility for veterans who may have been exposed to toxins from burn pits. Republicans opposed the bill for including a provision that would move spending from the Department of Veterans Affairs’ discretionary budget to its mandatory budget, not subject to congressional reauthorization, which they said would allow for unrelated and wasteful spending.

“I support providing coverage to service members affected by burn pit exposure,” Johnson said July 27, clarifying why he voted against ending debate on the bill. “Unfortunately, the bill as written includes an unnecessary provision that opens the door for more reckless government spending, unrelated to the VA. I voted no on cloture tonight to insist on having the ability to amend the bill to correct this.”

Responding to an inquiry about Johnson’s comments Tuesday, his spokesperson Alexa Henning said Johnson’s point was that “without fiscal discipline and oversight typically found with discretionary spending, Congress has allowed the guaranteed benefits for programs like Social Security and Medicare to be threatened.”

“This must be addressed by Congress taking its responsibilities seriously to ensure that seniors don’t need to question whether the programs they depend on remain solvent,” her statement continued. “As he said, we need a process to save these programs and no one is doing anything to save them long term.”

In response, Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, who became the presumptive Democratic U.S. Senate nominee after his top Democratic opponents dropped out last week, called Johnson a self-serving multimillionaire senator who “wants to strip working people of the Social Security and Medicare they’ve earned.”

“Wisconsinites pay into Social Security through a lifetime of hard work, and they’re counting on this program and Medicare — but Ron Johnson just doesn’t care,” he added.

Henning, who is also a spokesperson for Johnson’s campaign, said Barnes’ accusation that Johnson wants to strip Wisconsinites of Social Security and Medicare was a lie.

“He said he wants to save the programs to ensure that seniors don’t need to question whether the programs they depend on remain solvent,” she said. “Another desperate attempt by the Democrats to smear Ron Johnson since they cannot defend their own records or Biden’s disastrous policy failures that are causing harm to Wisconsinites.”