US President Joe Biden stood out as a defender of pension and health care programs during a speech in the southern state of Florida, promising to protect Medicare and Social Security from any cuts proposed by Republicans.
Speaking in the city of Tampa, Biden, a Democrat, built on statements he had previously made that a rival party could not be trusted to protect government benefits.
“Look, I know a lot of Republicans dream of cutting Social Security, Medicare. Well, let me say this. If that’s your dream, I’m your nightmare,” he told an audience at the University of Tampa.
There is speculation that Biden is up for re-election in 2024. In his address 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 program for people age 65 and older that is also available to certain younger people with disabilities. Social Security, meanwhile, provides benefits for retirement, disability and dependents whose family members die.
Biden also reiterated his earlier pledge on Wednesday to lower the price of prescription drugs like insulin, a drug used to treat diabetes. Biden proposed capping out-of-pocket insulin costs at $35 a month.
“Reducing prescription drug costs doesn’t just save seniors money. It would cut the federal budget by hundreds of billions of dollars. It’s not a joke,” he said to applause.
The proposal builds on prescription drug reform included in the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, which put price caps on some drugs. In a speech Wednesday, Biden touted the legislation and other accomplishments in his first two years in office.
“People on fixed incomes rely on Social Security and Medicare to get by. They deserve a greater sense of safety and dignity, and that’s what my plan offers,” Biden said.
“I signed the Inflation Reduction Act and took on the most powerful interest we’ve been fighting for years, pharma, to lower health care costs so you can sleep better.”
The speech in Tampa comes as Biden travels to key swing states after his annual State of the Nation address to the US Congress on Tuesday.
During the State of the Union address, Biden struck a message that he would defend popular government programs that benefit seniors and low-income people. He also accused “some Republicans” of trying to “shut down” Medicare and Social Security, a claim that drew boos from conservative members of the audience.
Biden revisited the moment in his speech in Tampa, saying, “We saw on Tuesday night, Republicans don’t like to be called out on this.”
The Florida event comes amid questions about whether Biden’s Democratic Party remains competitive in the southern swing state, which has swung in favor of Republican nominee Donald Trump in the last two presidential elections.
Biden said the state’s large population of elderly retirees could see their benefits cut by Republican lawmakers, a claim the GOP disputed.
Rick Scott, one of Florida’s two representatives in the U.S. Senate, previously proposed that the federal law be “extinguished,” or expire, every five years. “If the bill is worth keeping, Congress can pass it again,” Scott said in a statement Wednesday.
Critics of Scott’s proposal fear it could affect programs like Medicare and Social Security. But Scott called such claims untrue, saying he was “not in favor of cutting Social Security or Medicare.”
Before taking office, Scott accumulated a substantial fortune as the head of a hospital conglomerate that later had to pay $1.7 billion to settle federal charges that the company enriched itself by defrauding Medicare and Medicaid. Scott denied that he was aware of any wrongdoing during his tenure.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters that Republican lawmakers “have said over the years, and especially over the last few months, that they want to cut those two key benefits.”
Speaking in the state of Wisconsin on Wednesday, a day after his State of the Union address, Biden vowed not to implement program cuts.
“These benefits belong to you, the American worker,” Biden said. “You deserve it. And I won’t let anyone cut them. Not today, not tomorrow, not ever, period.”