During the Democratic debate Sunday night, former Vice President Joe Biden falsely claimed he had never called for cuts to Social Security.
Biden made the claim when he was asked by his opponent for the Democratic presidential nomination, Sen. Bernie Sanders, whether he had ever called for such cuts.
“Were you on the floor [of the Senate], time and time again, for whatever reason, talking about the need to cut Social Security, and Medicare and veterans’ programs?” Sanders asked Biden.
“No,” Biden replied. “I did not talk about the need to cut any of those programs.”
“All that I would say to the American people, go to YouTube. It’s all over the place. Joe said it many, many times,” Sanders said. “You can defend it or change your mind on it, but you can’t deny the reality.”
Sanders has made Biden’s past calls for cuts to Social Security a focus of his campaign this month as the Democratic presidential primary has come down to the two men. Biden has aggressively fought back, including with an ad that stressed his current platform, which calls for expanding Social Security benefits.
The pair began debating the issue Sunday when Biden brought up a Sanders’s ad attacking him for advocating for Social Security cuts.
“Speaking of negative ads, my Lord, Bernie: You’re running ads saying I’m opposed to Social Security that Politifact says is a flat lie and that the Wash Post said is a flat lie,” Biden said.
While it’s true that Politifact and the Washington Post were critical of Sanders’s ad, neither described it as completely false.
Sanders’s ad and other attacks from his campaign have focused on comments Biden made during his lengthy political career. Biden, who became a senator in 1973, floated raising the Social Security retirement age in 1983.
A year later, in 1984, Biden supported plans to freeze federal spending — including Social Security — as part of an effort to reduce the national debt. And in the 1990s, Biden supported efforts to balance the budget that would have included cuts to Social Security. As a member of the House of Representatives in the 1990s, Sanders opposed that legislation.
In 2007, as he was running for president, Biden repeatedly expressed openness to raising the retirement age in an attempt to make it easier to pay for social safety net programs. Biden also reportedly was open to cutting Social Security during his first term as vice president, which began in 2009, as he sought to make budget compromises with Republicans.
Politifact called Sanders’s ad “mostly false” because Biden’s “current policy is to increase Social Security benefits.” However, Politifact acknowledged that the ad contained “elements of truth” due to Biden’s past comments. The Washington Post took a similar tack and noted that Biden currently supports expanding Social Security, while Sanders is focusing on older remarks that “came during periods when a growing budget deficit was a major concern in official Washington.”
In the debate, Sanders attempted to boil the issue down to a much simpler question: Had Biden ever advocated for cuts to Social Security? Biden said no.
But Biden did indeed talk about the need for Social Security cuts on the floor of the Senate. In Senate remarks from 1995 that have been highlighted by Sanders’s campaign, Biden noted that he had repeatedly called for cuts as part of efforts to reduce the deficit and balance the budget.
“When I argued that we should freeze federal spending, I meant Social Security as well. I meant Medicare and Medicaid. I meant veterans’ benefits. I meant every single solitary thing in the government. And I not only tried it once, I tried it twice, I tried it a third time, and I tried it a fourth time,” Biden said.
Sanders pressed Biden on this during the debate.
“Come on, Joe. You’re an honest guy. Why don’t you just tell the truth here. We all make mistakes,” Sanders said, later adding, “I want you just to be straight with the American people. I am saying that you have been on the floor of the Senate time and time again talking about the need to cut Social Security, Medicare and veterans’ programs. Is that true?”
Biden insisted it was “not true” and stressed both his current advocacy for expanding Social Security and the fact that his past openness to spending cuts was due to a desire to address the national debt.
“What is true is, in terms of the negotiations that were taking place on how to deal with the deficit, everything was on the table,” Biden said. “I did not support any of those cuts.”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” Sanders replied. “Everything was on the table. … You just said it.”
Biden retorted that, ultimately, Social Security was not cut. Sanders argued this was because the balanced budget amendments did not pass.
“People like me helped stop that,” Sanders said of the amendments, adding, “Joe, you just contradicted yourself. … One minute you said, ‘I was not on the floor.’ The next minute you say, ‘Well, yes, there was a reason why; I was worried about the deficit.’”
Sanders concluded by reiterating his point.
“All that I’m saying is you were prepared to cut and advocated for the cuts.”
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