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As 2024 campaign draws near, Biden focuses on issues for senior voters

President Joe Biden speaks about health care and prescription drug costs at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Wednesday, March 15, 2023, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
President Joe Biden speaks about health care and prescription drug costs at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Wednesday, March 15, 2023, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
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President Joe Biden is positioning himself as defender-in-chief of Social Security and Medicare in a series of events and speeches vowing to protect them against what he describes as Republican attempts to cut benefits.

The latest example was a trip to Nevada where he gave a speech on savings for prescription drug costs stemming from provisions in the Inflation Reduction Act signed into law last year, where he told the audience about the cost-saving benefits that will help older Americans protect their retirements and families afford important medications.

“All Americans deserve peace of mind that if the illness strikes or they have — an accident occurs in their family, they can get the care they need but they can afford the care they need,” Biden said.

The president also promised to defend cuts to Social Security and Medicare, two overwhelmingly popular programs among voters that the White House has tried to push for the forefront in an ongoing fight over how to handle the nation’s finances.

It follows the release of Biden’s budget proposal to Congress, which has virtually no chance of becoming law but offers some insight into what his expected reelection campaign might look like. Several parts of his budget build on past legislative achievements like the Inflation Reduction Act, the bipartisan infrastructure bill and parts of the American Rescue Plan.

My budget takes steps to lift the burden on seniors and hardworking Americans so at the end of the month, after busting their necks their whole lives, they have a little bit left over,” Biden said Wednesday.

One piece of his budget was a plan to extend the solvency of Medicare by raising taxes on America’s highest earners and reallocating funds from prescription drug programs.

“For a president, particularly [a] Democratic president whose party is associated particularly with protecting those programs, it can be a very effective line of argument to say that he's standing up for Social Security, Medicare, and that opponents are going to take those benefits away or compromise them in some way more realistically,” said Chris Devine, an associate professor of political science at the University of Dayton.

Initial surveys of voters have found strong support for parts of the president’s budget proposal. A Morning Consult poll found 77% of voters support capping the price of insulin at $35 a month, 70% approved limiting out-of-pocket costs for generic drugs for Medicare beneficiaries, and 64% supported extending ACA subsidies.

The president’s continued attention to health care and entitlement programs speaks to an issue that is important to America’s older voters, who are also the most reliable in turnout and could help swing the 2024 election in his favor.

Democrats have been unable to pull a majority of voters over 65 into their column over the last two presidential elections but are a demographic group Biden performed better with than 2016 Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

“They will turn out. They'll turn out in the primaries, they'll turn out in the general election. Of any age demographic, that's the one that's most likely to either help your campaign or hurt your campaign,” said Devine said. “In that sense, while senior citizens are not the only group for Biden to focus on, there are many constituencies he has to reach out to. That's a particularly important one.”

Health care has been part of Biden’s platform since before the 2020 election as he also advocated for expanding coverage under the Affordable Care Act, the signature achievement during his time as vice president under President Barack Obama. He seized on GOP attempts to repeal or alter the law during his remarks.

If MAGA Republicans had their way, as many as 100 million people with pre-existing conditions would lose their protection. That’s a fact,” Biden said.

Biden has sought to draw a stark contrast between himself and Republicans on handling the entitlement programs and lowering the cost of health care heading into 2024’s campaign season and the fight with House Republicans to raise the debt limit.

Trump, who has already officially declared his presidential campaign, has also promised to protect Social Security and Medicare benefits. But other presidential contenders like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis have expressed support in the past for plans that would cut benefits to shore up their financial futures, which he has walked back recently.

“This is really a powerful issue because it falls outside of the usual partisan divisions. We do have Republican politicians who talk about also not touching these programs, so it's a little easier to get something like consensus from a certain group of voters here that are very important than it would be on some other issues,” Devine said. “In that sense, I think it's wise not just as a general strategy, but also as a way of targeting a particular group of voters here being senior citizens.”

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