The Biden White House has tried since President Joe Biden’s inauguration to move past the Trump years and to focus instead on strengthening democracy by rebuilding the American middle class and by renewing our alliances and friendships with democratic allies.

As his message has repeatedly been drowned out by the cultural messaging of the Republicans, Biden has begun to criticize their economic plans more directly, especially in the last few weeks. The White House released a fact sheet on November 1 laying out exactly what it would look like to have the Republicans’ economic plans put into effect.

The Republican Party as a whole has not put forward a legislative agenda before this election to attract voters. Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) told donors, lobbyists, and senators in December 2021 that the party would focus only on attacking Biden and the Democrats. A Republican operative told Jonathan Swan and Alayna Treene of Axios, “One of the biggest mistakes challengers often make is thinking campaigns are about them and their ideas…. No one gives a sh*t about that. Elections are referendums on incumbents.”

Other Republicans disagreed with McConnell and have offered plans that cater to their base but run the risk of alienating non-MAGA voters. The White House highlighted some of those points, focusing on prescription drug costs, Social Security, and Medicare.

The Inflation Reduction Act, which passed in August with Democratic votes alone, allows Medicare to negotiate the price of prescription drugs with pharmaceutical companies, caps the annual cost of medication at $2,000, caps insulin costs for those on Medicare at $35 a month, and lowers health care premiums for those whose coverage comes from the Affordable Care Act.

The White House said that Republicans want to repeal these measures, and in October, Senate Republicans James Lankford (OK), Mike Lee (UT), Cynthia Lummis (WY), and Marco Rubio (FL) in fact introduced the “Protecting Drug Innovation Act” to remove the negotiation ability, price caps, and health care premium adjustments in the Inflation Reduction Act “as if such parts had never been enacted.” Lee explained that “price controls never work” but instead “exacerbate the problems they seek to resolve. Mandating fixed prescription drug prices will ultimately result in the shortening of American lives.”

Republican leaders have also called for policies that threaten Social Security and Medicare. Senator Rick Scott (R-FL), chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which funds senatorial campaigns, issued an eleven-point plan to “Rescue America” that called for — among other things — sunsetting all laws five years after passage and reauthorizing the ones that lawmakers wanted to keep. Scott later added a twelfth point to the plan: cutting taxes.

When challenged that his plan would threaten Medicare, Scott has repeated a talking point that Politifact, the Washington Post Fact Checker, CNN, and have all called false: that Democrats are threatening Medicare because they “cut $280 billion out of Medicare.” In fact, the Inflation Reduction Act saves the government — and therefore taxpayers — somewhere between $237 billion and $288 billion by permitting it to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies; it does not cut services. In other words, Scott is lying that reduced government spending on Medicare thanks to the Inflation Reduction Act — savings the Republicans want to end — is the same thing as calling to sunset the program in five years.

Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) has called for making the funding for Social Security and Medicare discretionary, meaning it would have to be voted on annually, rather than leaving it as mandatory, covered by statute. “We’ve got to turn everything into discretionary spending, so it’s all evaluated, so that we can fix problems or fix programs that are broken, that are going to be going bankrupt,” Johnson told a right-wing radio show. “Because, again, as long as things are on automatic pilot, we just continue to pile up debt.”

Like the plans of other Republicans, those of the Republican Study Committee (RSC), chaired by Representative Jim Banks of Indiana, start from the position that taxes on the wealthy hurt workers by causing “the misallocation of capital, creating a less robust economy, and leading to slower wage growth and job creation.” The RSC released a budget in September that rejected the idea of raising taxes to stabilize Medicare and Social Security and instead called for increasing the age for Medicare eligibility to 67 and that for Social Security eligibility to 70.

The Republican argument for weakening these popular programs is that they are too big a drain on the federal budget and that it is important to continue cutting taxes on the wealthy in order to free up capital for them to reinvest in the economy. This has been Republicans’ argument since 1980, but it has never produced either the economic growth or the tax revenue its supporters promised. In contrast, Biden and the Democrats maintain that cutting the nation’s social safety net will create hardship that will not be offset by tax cuts for the wealthy.

Biden and former president Barack Obama, who has been speaking in states with close races, have repeatedly made the point that Americans pay into Social Security throughout their working lives and have earned the payments they eventually receive.

On November 1, in front of an audience in Florida, Biden read directly from Scott’s plan to sunset laws, quoted Johnson’s plan to make Social Security discretionary, and said “Who in the hell do they think they are?”

Еrіn Scоtt, Carlоs Fyfе, Аdаm Schultz, and Cаmеrоn Smіth / The White House

Letters from an Аmerican is a daily email newsletter written by Heather Cox Richardson, about the history behind today’s politics