Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis expressed support for privatizing Medicare and Social Security during his first campaign for Congress in 2012, giving political rivals who have pledged to protect the programs an opening to attack him ahead of DeSantis’ expected run for president in 2024.
Former President Donald Trump and Democrats have already signaled plans to weaponize DeSantis’ comments against him, should he announce for president, and subsequent votes in Congress for non-binding budget resolutions that privatized Medicare and raised the retirement age to 70.
A CNN KFile review of comments from DeSantis’ 2012 congressional campaign found he repeatedly said he supported plans to replace Medicare with a system in which the government paid for partial costs of private plans or a traditional Medicare plan. In one interview with a local newspaper, DeSantis said he supported “the same thing” for Social Security, citing the need for “market forces” to restructure the program.
DeSantis’ office declined to comment on his position on Social Security and Medicare.
During his 2012 campaign, DeSantis embraced then-Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget which became a political football in the 2012 presidential race, when Ryan was chosen as Mitt Romney’s pick for vice president. Democrats argued in 2012 Ryan’s budget plans turned Medicare into a “voucher” system, whereas Republicans called it “premium support.” Under the proposals, the government would subsidize seniors by partially paying for private plans or a traditional Medicare plan.
“I would embrace proposals like [Rep.] Paul Ryan offered, and other people have offered, that are going to provide some market forces in there, more consumer choice, and make it so that it’s not just basically a system that’s just going to be bankrupt when you have new people coming into it,” DeSantis told the St. Augustine Record in a video that was posted on YouTube at the time.
“Social Security, I would do the same thing,” he added, later saying it was “unsustainable” to allow seniors to retire in their late 60s.
At the time, DeSantis was a Tea Party fiscal conservative, running with the backing of conservative groups like Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum, FreedomWorks, the Club for Growth, and the Madison Project.
Trump and Democrats have already staked out positions saying they would protect the programs.
DeSantis has yet to announce he if he running for president in 2024, nor has he spoken publicly about his position on the entitlement programs as the governor or Florida, preferring to focus on culture war issues.
But Trump recently released a video saying Republicans should never vote to cut “a single penny” from Social Security or Medicare,” and that he would protect the two programs.
In his State of the Union speech, President Joe Biden took aim at Republicans on the same issue, saying “their dream is to cut Social Security and Medicare,” to the ire of Republicans.
On Thursday, the president visited Florida to emphasize his support for protecting Medicare and Social Security in the state whose population utilizes these programs more than any other. A senior White House advisor told CNN that the Florida visit will allow Biden to take the fight to DeSantis and Sen. Rick Scott, the architect of a plan that would sunset all federal legislation – including Social Security and Medicare – every five years and require Congress to pass them again.
Embraced Ryan plans
DeSantis fully embraced the Ryan plan in 2012 calling it a premium support system that would guarantee certain levels of coverage.
“I think people who are low income will probably be given coverage that is similar to what they have now,” he said in the interview with the St. Augustine Record. “I think people like me, who’ve been more successful, it’s not even that I will have to pay more. I will have premium support that’s going to guarantee me a certain amount of coverage.”
“If you want something over and above that, if you want a Cadillac plan or something, then I do think it should be driven by the consumer rather than imposed on the taxpayers,” he added. “And I just think that that makes sense.”
Both programs, DeSantis said, needed to be restructured.
“What I think we need to do for people in my generation particularly, is start to restructure the program, in a way that’s gonna be financially sustainable, both Social Security and Medicare,” he added.
At a League of Women Voters debate in August 2012, DeSantis reiterated his support for Ryan’s plan.
“I support what Ryan is trying to do in terms of reforming entitlements. It’s not a voucher, it’s premium support,” he was quoted as saying. “You get a plan and can supplement it with your own income.”
After getting elected, one of DeSantis’ first interviews as a newly sworn-in member was on CNN on January 4, 2013, where he said he hoped Congress would take on restructuring entitlements when asked about Social Security and Medicare.
“I think we need to restructure some of these entitlements. Get it in a way that they’re sustainable over the long term.”