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Amy Sherman
By Amy Sherman September 16, 2016

Fact-checking Democratic attacks on Marco Rubio's statements on Social Security and Medicare

Two Democratic groups say Republican Sen. Marco Rubio wants to cut Social Security and Medicare -- programs that millions of Florida seniors rely on each year.

"Marco Rubio wanted to cut Social Security and Medicare because he said they’re bankrupting our country. But that’s what politicians say when the insurance industry bankrolls their campaigns. Marco Rubio has taken almost $1 million from the insurance industry which was profit from his privatization plans," says the narrator in a TV ad by the Senate Majority PAC and AFSCME People.

The PAC aims to elect Democrats to the Senate, including U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, while AFSCME is a union representing public workers.

We found that Rubio’s views are much more nuanced than the ad suggests.

Rubio’s 2010 Senate campaign

About 21 percent of Florida’s population -- about 3.9 million people -- receive Social Security benefits. About 4 million Floridians use Medicare for health insurance.

Both programs face long-term financing shortfalls, leading program trustees and experts on the federal budget to call on lawmakers to take action -- something many are unwilling to do out of fear of repercussions at the ballot box. Finding ways to pay for the programs in the long-term is important because together they accounted for 41 percent of federal program expenditures in fiscal year 2015.

During his first U.S. Senate campaign in 2010, Rubio called for reforming entitlement programs.

Specifically, Rubio said in 2010 that he was open to raising the retirement age.

"Privatization of the accounts has come and gone, (but) there are other alternatives, such as (raising) the retirement age, how you adjust payments in the future, 'need' measures, et cetera."

The retirement age came up again during a Fox News Sunday debate. Host Chris Wallace asked Rubio if he would raise the retirement age.

"I think that has to be on the table. That's got to be part of the solution. The retirement age that gradually increases for people of my generation, I think has got to be part of ...," Rubio said before getting cut off.

Rubio was asked if he would support changing cost-of-living adjustments for Social Security beneficiaries.

"I think all of that has to be on the table, including the way we index increases in cost of living. All of these issues have to be on the table," Rubio said. "They have to be options that I would be open to."

Rubio consistently said that while he wouldn’t make changes for those 55 and older, younger people such as himself (he was 39 at the time) would have to accept changes.

After Rubio was elected

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The Senate Majority PAC’s ad cites Rubio’s comments from 2011. In March 2011, Rubio voted for a House-passed measure to cut about $61 billion from the budget through the end of the year.

"While reducing discretionary spending is an important goal, Washington is devoting a disproportionate amount of time to a tiny slice of the budget while ignoring the fact that continued inaction on saving Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid is bankrupting our country," Rubio said in a press release.

In 2014, Rubio gave a speech at the National Press Club in which he again said inaction would lead to bankruptcy. Rubio called to "gradually increase the retirement age for future retirees to account for the rise in life expectancy."

As for Medicare, he called for a "premium support system" that would give seniors a fixed amount of money to purchase insurance from Medicare or a private provider. That was similar to a plan by U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis.

Rubio voted for the Ryan budgets that included reductions in future Medicare spending. The burden would have fallen on beneficiaries to pay more out of pocket.

While running for president in 2016, Rubio again called for reducing the debt by making changes to Social Security and Medicare.

At a March debate in Miami, Rubio reiterated his stance about raising the retirement age but not for those who are 55 or older.

"Social Security will go bankrupt, and it will bankrupt the country with it," he said. "So what it will require is people younger, like myself, people that are 30 years away from retirement, to accept that our Social Security is going to work differently than it did for my parents."

Rubio’s 2016 race

While running for re-election, Rubio reiterated the same proposals for Social Security.  

"Marco's own mother relies on Social Security as her sole source of income," Rubio spokesman Michael Ahrens said. "Marco would never do anything to hurt his mother or the millions of Florida seniors who depend on Social Security and Medicare, and he'll continue to fight to strengthen the programs for future generations."

His campaign staff also point to previous PolitiFact analysis that said that reining in the spending growth of a program like Medicare wasn’t the same as cutting it.

Our ruling

TV ads say that Marco Rubio "wanted to cut Social Security and Medicare because he said they’re bankrupting our country."

Rubio has repeatedly said since 2010 that those programs will bankrupt the United States. His plan to raise the retirement age would amount to a cut for those recipients. He supported the Ryan budgets that included reductions in future Medicare spending.

The ad omits that his proposals to change Social Security would not affect current retirees or people nearing retirement.

We rate this claim Half True.

Our Sources

Political TV Ad Archive, "Weaken us" ad by Senate Majority PAC, Sept. 14, 2016

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, Press release, March 9, 2011

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, "Rubio proposes retirement security reforms at National Press Club," May 13, 2014

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio website, "America’s seniors," Accessed Sept. 14, 2016

Social Security Administration, Statistics by state, December 2015

Social Security Administration, A summary of the 2016 annual reports, Accessed Sept. 14, 2016

Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, Total number of Medicare beneficiaries, 2015  

CNN, Debate transcript, March 10, 2016

Tallahassee Democrat, "Sens. Rubio, Nelson split over spending reductions," (Accessed in Nexis) March 10, 2011

Miami Herald, "Marc Caputo: A swig of water isn’t going to sideline Marco Rubio," Feb. 17, 2013

Tampa Bay Times, "Rubio: U.S. must be a leader," (Accessed in Nexis) Sept. 18, 2014

PolitiFact, "Fact-checking Marco Rubio's Social Security stance," Oct. 6, 2010

PolitiFact, "Ron Johnson says Republican budget proposal don’t cut spending, just reduce budget growth," Feb. 20, 2013

PolitiFact, "Ryan's plan includes $700 billion in Medicare "cuts," says Stephanie Cutter," Aug. 15, 2012

Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board, "Rubio gets serious about Social Security reform," April 11, 2010

You Tube, Marco Rubio talking about Social Security, January 2010

Social Security and Medicare Board of Trustees, "Status of the Social Security and Medicare Programs," 2010

Marco Rubio campaign, "Statement From Governor Jeb Bush On Charlie Crist's False Social Security Attack Ad," Oct. 5, 2010

Fox News, transcript of Marco Rubio/Charlie Crist debate, March 28, 2010

CBS, Face the Nation transcript, Sept. 26, 2010

Wall Street Journal, "The Conscience of a Florida Conservative," March 13, 2010

St. Petersburg Times, "Rubio gets serious about Social Security reform," April 12, 2010

George Will, "Only a brave few acknowledge an entitlement crisis," April 11, 2010

U.S. Senate, Motion to Proceed to Consider H. Con. Res. 34, May 25, 2011

U.S. Senate, Motion to Proceed to Consider H.Con.Res. 112, May 16, 2012

U.S. Senate, Murray Amdt. No. 433, March 31, 2013

The Hill, "Senate rejects Ryan budget," May 25, 2011

The Hill, "Senate rejects Obama budget in 99-0 vote," May 16, 2012

Interview, Shripal Shah, Senate Majority PAC spokesman, Sept. 14, 2016

Interview, Michael Ahrens, Sen. Marco Rubio spokesman, Sept. 14, 2016

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Fact-checking Democratic attacks on Marco Rubio's statements on Social Security and Medicare

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