Fox News host Sean Hannity is among the right-wing media figures feigning offense over President Joe Biden using Tuesday’s State of the Union address to call out Republicans who support a plan that could allow Social Security and Medicare to sunset after five years. But when Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL) rolled out that plan in February 2022, Hannity “applaud[ed]” him and urged the Republican Party as a whole to rally behind Scott’s proposal.
“Some of my Republican friends want to take the economy hostage — I get it — unless I agree to their economic plans,” Biden said, referencing the GOP’s plot to use the debt ceiling as leverage to force Biden to accede to their policy prescriptions. “Instead of making the wealthy pay their fair share, some Republicans want Medicare and Social Security to sunset.”
“I’m not saying it’s the majority,” Biden replied after Republicans jeered and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) shouted that he was lying. He offered to provide “a copy of the proposal” that is being put forward “by individuals” in the GOP.
Of course, the Republican Party has a long record of advocating cuts to Social Security and Medicare. Biden was specifically referencing the 31-page document Scott put forth in 2022, at a time when he was a leader in the Senate GOP who chaired the National Republican Senatorial Committee. That plan, pitched by Scott as a future Republican governing agenda, included a provision that “all federal legislation sunsets in 5 years,” which would put Social Security and Medicare at risk. In Wednesday morning tweets, Scott effectively acknowledged both that Biden was referring to his plan and that he was characterizing it accurately, but whined that the president was being unfair.
If Republican officials are dishonestly mad about something, you can count on party propagandists like Hannity to join in. He opened his Fox prime-time show on Wednesday by claiming Biden had “falsely accused unnamed Republicans of plotting to end and take away Social Security and Medicare from Grandma and Grandpa.”
The host later devoted a segment to what he termed “one of the best parts from last night’s speech,” when Greene and her Republican colleagues heckled Biden “for his flat-out blatant lie” regarding their party and the vital social safety net programs. He added that “Democrats never let the truth get in the way of a great political lie and narrative,” before bringing on Greene, who claimed that “Joe Biden is a liar” and declared herself “honored to be able to call him the liar that he is in the people’s house.”
Hannity’s complaints are particularly dishonest because of his past praise for the very plan Biden criticized. Scott pitched his proposal on Hannity’s show in February 2022, and the Fox host loved it. “I want to applaud you,” Hannity told the senator. “I'd like to see the House and the Senate come together on these issues, make these promises to the American people, get elected and then fulfill those promises.”
This sort of chicanery is apparently how Hannity earned the official NRSC award for “people who care about freedom” that Scott presented to him last October.
Hannity wasn’t alone in praising Scott’s proposals last February — several of his Fox colleagues also spoke up at the same time for “pragmatic” Scott and his “practical,” “unabashedly populist” agenda “to move the country forward.” And Fox’s coverage since the speech has been replete with attacks on Biden for “the lie that Republicans want to do away with Social Security and Medicare,” in the words of host Todd Piro.
But as Fox anchor John Roberts noted in a 2022 interview with Scott, sunsetting Social Security and Medicare “is not a Democratic talking point; it’s in the plan” the senator put out. And on Wednesday morning, Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade actually praised that proposal as a “responsible” way to “reform” Social Security.
Kilmeade’s view that cuts to entitlements are necessary is longtime GOP dogma. Numerous party officials have expressed their support for slashing Social Security and Medicare, or signed on to proposals to do so, policies which are often framed as “reform” needed to “save” those programs.
Notably, as Biden alluded, leading House Republicans said before the 2022 midterms that they could require “Social Security and Medicare eligibility changes” as their price to raise the debt ceiling; a breach of that ceiling would cause widespread economic catastrophe. These threats did not receive nearly enough national media attention at the time — but Fox itself reported on its website that some House Republicans “have proposed raising the retirement age for both Social Security and Medicare” using that strategy. Those public calls quieted after former President Donald Trump publicly called for taking the programs off the table. But the day before Biden’s speech, Bloomberg reported that House Republicans “are pushing to create panels to study” cutting Social Security and Medicare “as part of any debt limit deal.”
We are also not that far removed from the days of Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) budget-cutting proposals — heavily supported by Fox and the GOP — which called for raising the Medicare eligibility age and turning it into a block grant program. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Trump’s leading likely opponent for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, was among the House Republicans at the time who supported even more extreme measures including cuts to Social Security benefits.
Social Security and Medicare are extremely popular programs, and the Republican proposals to cut them are not, so it’s no surprise that party mouthpieces like Hannity are trying to keep their viewers in the dark. But for all their grousing, slashing the social safety net is core to GOP ideology, going hand in hand with its ceaseless urge to cut taxes for rich people.