Two Johns’ subtle differences on Social Security, Medicare

Two of the top contenders to be the next Senate GOP leader are taking subtle but different approaches to the future of Social Security and Medicare.

Minority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) suggested that lawmakers take steps to ensure the programs’ continued viability — amid Democratic attacks on his party for potentially entertaining new limits to entitlements.

“It’s going to take courage at some point,” Thune said. “And this maybe isn’t the season, but we can’t wait much longer,” referring to the presidential election.

The South Dakotan added: “At some point, we’ve got to confront the reality that Social Security and Medicare are headed for bankruptcy.”

By contrast, John Cornyn (R-Texas) — Thune’s chief rival so far in the race to succeed Mitch McConnell — largely demurred on entitlements. Cornyn said the political reality is that both President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump have resisted major changes to the programs, alterations to which are a long-running third rail of U.S. politics.

“We’re not going to do anything without the president’s leadership — and neither President Biden or President Trump have indicated their desire to deal with those [programs],” Cornyn said. “We need to try to do the work to build that bipartisan support to get it done.”

Asked what he would personally support, the Texan quipped: “If I had a magic wand? I don’t have a magic wand.”

Both men are running to be the next Senate GOP leader in a field that could continue to grow. Their answers offer a glimpse into how they could contend with one of the thorniest issues facing Congress — the future viability of two of the nation’s most popular programs — as Republican leader.

Biden has steadfastly refused all proposed cuts to the programs. Trump, though, said during a recent CNBC interview that there’s “a lot you can do in terms of entitlements, in terms of cutting.”

He later cleaned up those comments in an interview with Breitbart, saying “I will never do anything that will jeopardize or hurt Social Security or Medicare.” Biden, however, quickly responded that “I’m never going to let that happen,” regarding cuts.