Get PolitiFact in your inbox.
If Your Time is short
In August, Johnson suggested in a radio show interview that all federal spending should be discretionary, meaning it’s reviewed annually by Congress, and if it’s not reapproved, it ends.
In response to the Democratic argument that he wants to open up Social Security and Medicare to cuts, Johnson has said he doesn’t want to cut the programs; instead, he floated the idea to ensure they remain financially solvent.
Still, putting them up for annual review opens up the possibility of a yearly battle, meaning they could be cut or reduced.
As November’s midterm elections loom, some of the attacks are starting to become familiar.
In Wisconsin’s U.S. Senate race, for example, incumbent U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, a Republican, is hammering opponent Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, a Democrat, for his views on social justice issues and crime. Barnes is hitting Johnson by pointing to his record and arguing the senator has left working people behind.
Lately, that includes criticism of a suggestion Johnson made in early August: that Medicare and Social Security, two immensely popular programs that affect millions upon millions of older Americans, should be subjected to annual budget deliberations.
President Joe Biden joined in during remarks on the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act at the White House Sept. 13.
"Along comes Sen. Ron Johnson from Wisconsin," Biden said, before saying Johnson wants to put "Social Security and Medicare on the chopping block every single year."
Is Biden right? Let’s take a look.
The claim has been used so frequently that Johnson’s office sent along several responses to prior questions about it. The White House, meanwhile, did not respond to a request for Biden’s evidence — though it’s clear what he was referring to.
To understand what’s going on, let’s first understand how federal spending works. It falls into two baskets: Discretionary spending, which is determined annually by Congress and the president through appropriations, and mandatory spending, which includes programs governed by permanent law.
In other words, items that fall into the discretionary spending bucket get reviewed each year, and if Congress doesn’t renew them, they end. Items in the mandatory spending bucket automatically proceed as usual unless Congress makes changes.
Most defense programs, veterans’ health care, support for elementary and secondary education, scientific research and public health fall into the discretionary bucket. Social Security and Medicare are on the mandatory spending list.
On Aug. 2, Johnson told host Joe Giganti during an interview on his "Regular Joe Show" that he wants to turn everything in the federal budget, including Social Security and Medicare, into discretionary spending so programs could be evaluated and fixed.
"If you qualify for the entitlement you just get it, no matter what the cost. And our problem in this country is that more than 70% of our federal budget, of our federal spending, is all mandatory spending. It’s on automatic pilot. It never … you just don’t do proper oversight. You don’t get in there and fix the programs going bankrupt," Johnson said.
He added, "What we ought to be doing is we ought to turn everything into discretionary spending, so that it’s all evaluated, so that we can fix problems or fix programs that are broken or that are going to be going bankrupt."
Johnson has said he does not want to cut Social Security and Medicare; instead, he says, he wants to pull them out to ensure they remain financially solvent.
"Without fiscal discipline and oversight typically found within discretionary spending, Congress has allowed the guaranteed benefits for programs like Social Security and Medicare to be threatened," Johnson spokesperson Alexa Henning told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and The Washington Post.
With that in mind, Biden is stretching things by painting Johnson as wanting to put the programs on the chopping block, which implies that he hopes they are reduced. Still, putting them up for annual review would increase the chances that they are reduced by opening the possibility for a yearly battle.
Biden said Johnson "wants to put Social Security and Medicare on the chopping block every single year."
Johnson has repeatedly said he wants to put the programs under the stricter scrutiny of discretionary spending so they remain financially solvent. Still, putting them up for an annual review would increase the chances they’d be cut, simply because there would be an opportunity every year to do so.
A rating of Mostly True means the statement is accurate but needs clarification or additional information.
That fits here.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "'This race is going to get nasty on both sides': Mandela Barnes, Ron Johnson poised for expensive, contentious U.S. Senate battle," Aug. 10, 2022
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Ron Johnson calls for subjecting Medicare and Social Security to annual budget talks," Aug. 2, 2022
White House, Remarks by President Biden on the Passage of H.R. 5376, the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, Sept. 13, 2022
House Committee on the Budget, Frequently Asked Questions, accessed Sept. 22, 2022
Regular Joe Show, Ron Johnson appearance, Aug. 2, 2022
Washington Post, "Sen. Johnson suggests ending Medicare, Social Security as mandatory spending programs," Aug. 3, 2022
Email exchange with Johnson spokesperson Alexa Henning
Read About Our Process
In a world of wild talk and fake news, help us stand up for the facts.