Senator Rick Scott has managed to tie himself and the Republican Party into knots thanks to an extremely ill-advised proposal he made last year to sunset all federal programs. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell rejected the proposal almost instantly, pointing out that “all” includes Social Security and Medicare, the wildly popular retirement programs that Republicans are always suspected of wanting to kill, cut, or “reform” (with good reason). And now, in a sign of just how much self-inflicted damage Scott has done to his party, McConnell has even suggested it could cost Scott reelection in the senior-filled state of Florida.
But since Scott was chairman of the Senate GOP’s 2022 campaign committee, it was easy for delighted Democrats to hang the sunsetting proposal on all Republican candidates. And then, more recently, Joe Biden brought it up again in his State of the Union address, provoking Republican members of Congress into incoherent but very noisy raving and forcing virtually all of them subsequently to forswear any interest in messing with retirement programs.
Instead of just taking his lumps and revising his proposal to exempt Social Security and Medicare from the hypothetical sunsetting of federal programs that isn’t going to happen in a million years, Scott tried to get cute by heatedly denying he wanted to cut Social Security and Medicare. Indeed, he introduced a bill to increase funding for the programs (albeit via the demagogic GOP proposal to claw back IRS funding). But he held his ground on the sunsetting “idea,” and as the Washington Post’s Aaron Blake explained, McConnell, to use a technical term, lost his shit:
On a local Kentucky radio show with host Terry Meiners [last] Thursday, McConnell was asked specifically about whether Republicans want to sunset Social Security and Medicare, and McConnell pinned that idea to Scott.
“Well unfortunately, that’s the Scott plan,” McConnell said. “That’s not a Republican plan; that was the Rick Scott plan …”
Then came the headline-grabbing moment, [when] McConnell said:
“I mean it’s just a bad idea. I think it will be a challenge for him to deal with this in his own reelection in Florida, a state with more elderly people than any other state in America.”
There’s no doubt McConnell is right about the sheer stupidity of a Florida politician talking, even for a second, about shutting down retirement plans when he’s running for reelection next year. But it’s still shocking to hear McConnell openly mock the viability of one of his own senators. He needs every Republican Senate seat he can muster to win back the majority next year and has supported countless candidates he probably can’t stand. Yes, the two men have been feuding lately. Scott challenged McConnell’s leadership after the midterms and failed completely. McConnell lashed out at Scott by kicking him off the Commerce Committee. Still, unless McConnell is so confident in his party’s 2024 prospects that he’s willing to sacrifice what would normally be a pretty safe seat in Florida, or is perhaps even interested in encouraging a primary challenge to Scott, his outburst is pretty remarkable.
This brings us back to some basic questions. What on earth was Scott thinking when he released his “Rescue America” plan without exempting entitlement programs from his silly universal sunsetting proposal? Why did he fail to deal with the problem when he revised the “rescue” plan to take out an equally boneheaded proposal to make the working poor pay income taxes? And why did he compound the problem this week, even after Republicans essentially shrieked at him for embarrassing them so badly?
Only the Florida senator knows the answers, but I have some theories. Maybe Scott originally planned to run for president rather than reelection and was determined to get to the right of the 2024 field, whatever the fallout back home. Perhaps, like his famous constituent at Mar-a-Lago, he’s just unable to ever admit mistakes. Maybe he has a political death wish. But in any event, Florida Democrats will have great sport in excoriating Scott on the campaign trail.
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