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Biden elevates Rick Scott as economic policy adversary

President's inflation remarks focus on Florida senator's tax, entitlement proposals

President Joe Biden takes questions from reporters after speaking about inflation and the economy in the South Court Auditorium on the White House campus Tuesday.
President Joe Biden takes questions from reporters after speaking about inflation and the economy in the South Court Auditorium on the White House campus Tuesday. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

The White House is all-in on elevating the profile of Florida Republican Sen. Rick Scott, but does it do so at its own peril?

President Joe Biden, trying to set up a contrast between the Democratic agenda and a potential Republican majority, is the latest Democrat to seize on Scott’s tax and entitlement proposals. Facing stiff headwinds, Democrats will be looking to cast the election as a choice between them and Republicans rather than a referendum on their control since 2021.

Scott was the primary GOP target of Biden’s remarks Tuesday on fighting inflation, a speech that focused more on highlighting the administration’s efforts to date and stalled legislation than on new proposals.

“Republicans in Congress are so deeply committed to protecting big corporations and CEOs that they would rather see taxes on working American families and try to depress their wages than take on inflation, never mind the fact that many of these companies are recording record profit margins even as … they raise prices record amounts,” Biden said, calling the Scott plan an ultra-MAGA proposal, in a nod to former president Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan.

Scott, chairman of the Senate Republicans’ campaign committee, responded by inviting the president to Florida for a debate on inflation.

“Joe Biden can blame me all he wants. Here’s the truth: he’s the President of the United States, Democrats control the House of Representatives and the Senate. Democrats’ agenda is hurting American families and no amount of spin can change that,” Scott said in a statement. “If Joe Biden wants to have a real debate on the issues, I’d welcome him to Florida anytime.”

The presidential airtime for Scott’s plan, which the senator proposed through his Senate office, not the campaign committee, will only give it and the lawmaker behind it more prominence. And Scott’s own electoral track record in Florida has been quite successful as a two-term governor who then unseated Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, who is now serving as NASA administrator. Scott was quoted by Politico earlier Tuesday as saying the incumbent president is “unfit for office.”

“He’s incoherent, incapacitated and confused. He doesn’t know where he is half the time,” Scott said. “He’s incapable of leading and he’s incapable of carrying out his duties.”

“I think the man has a problem,” Biden said when asked about the Florida senator’s commentary on his mental acuity.

Biden, however, did at one point refer to the junior senator from Florida as being from Wisconsin, presumably referring to GOP Sen. Ron Johnson, who is up for reelection in 2022.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who intends to be majority leader again if Republicans take back control of the Senate, has dismissed the Scott tax plan and said it is not his agenda. In the plan, Scott had said all Americans should pay some taxes to have “skin in the game,” leading Democrats to point out that would include many low-income retirees who are not paying income tax. Scott also called for federal legislation to have to be renewed every five years, leading critics to say that would include popular entitlement programs that continue from year-to-year without reauthorization.

“Let me tell you what would not be a part of our agenda: We will not have as part of our agenda a bill that raises taxes on half the American people and sunsets Social Security and Medicare within five years,” McConnell said March 1.

Opposing a potential requirement for Congress to have to take votes to retain Social Security and Medicare was among the pillars of Biden’s remarks Tuesday.

“You know what they’re likely to do? Use them as hostages every five years to get their way on other things. Think about it. Give us another tax cut for billionaires or Social Security gets it,” Biden said of the GOP proposal. “Stop investing in clean energy or you’re going to — or you’re going to — we’re going to kiss your Medicare goodbye.”

In a Fox News interview in March, Scott said no one wanted to sunset Medicare and Social Security, but as things stand, Congress is doing nothing to address the programs’ growing liabilities and he wants lawmakers to find a way to preserve them.

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