Highlighting a major contrast between the current top two candidates in the Democratic primary field in terms of how they have addressed the issue over their long legislative careers, the Bernie Sanders campaign hit back against a claim made by Joe Biden earlier in the day in which the former vice president said there was “doctored video” being circulated by the Sanders campaign that showed him agreeing with former Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan about the need to cut Social Security.

“It’s simply a lie, that video is a lie,” Biden said at a campaign event in Iowa when asked about his position on Social Security by an attendee.

Biden said the video was attributable to “Bernie’s people,” and that he was looking for the Sanders campaign “to come forward and disown it but they haven’t done it yet.”

According to Reuters:

After Biden’s comments, his campaign said the candidate was referring to recent claims by Sanders that Biden has proposed cutting Social Security in the past. The Sanders campaign has pointed to a speech Biden gave to the Brookings Institution think tank in 2018, when Biden said of Ryan’s plan to reform the tax code: “Paul Ryan was correct when he did the tax code. What’s the first thing he decided we had to after? Social Security and Medicare.”

For its part, the Sanders campaign appeared to relish the opportunity to have the issue discussed in detail. National press secretary Briahna Joy Gray tweeted a video capturing Biden’s comments at the Iowa event and said she hoped “the media covers this as a substantive policy disagreement.”

David Sirota, a speechwriter and frequent message amplifier for the Sanders campaign, sent an email out Saturday evening that stated: “Biden claimed that one video of him pushing Social Security ‘adjustments’ was doctored—but Biden’s absurd assertion has been widely debunked and discredited by reporters and Social Security advocates.”

Journalists who have looked at the issue closely, including The Intercept‘s Washington bureau chief Ryan Grim, agreed it is not accurate to describe the video Biden is referencing as “doctored.”

Grim reported in a piece published Monday that Biden has “advocated cutting social security for 40 years.”

And despite the Biden campaign’s now repeated assertion that the comments about agreeing with Paul Ryan were taken out of context, Grim’s reporting argues that “Biden’s record on Social Security is far worse than one offhand remark.” According to Grim:

Biden’s fixation on cutting Social Security dates back to the Reagan era. One of Ronald Reagan’s first major moves as president was to implement a mammoth tax cut, tilted toward the wealthy, and to increase defense spending. Biden, a Delaware senator at the time, supported both moves. The heightened spending and reduced revenue focused public attention on the debt and deficit, giving fuel to a push for a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution.

In the midst of that debate, Biden teamed up with Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley to call for a freeze on federal spending, and insisted on including Social Security in that freeze, even as the Reagan administration fought to protect the program from cuts. It was part of the Democratic approach at the time not just to match Republicans, but to get to their right at times as well, as Biden also did on criminal justice policy.

That push by Biden to join forces with Republicans to cut spending on social programs like Medicaid and Social Security in the mid-nineties included numerous speeches and statements Biden made in the Senate, many of them also captured on video and available to watch. Sirota, in particular, has been prolific in sharing them online:

In a statement Saturday evening, Sanders’ campaign manager Faiz Shakir also pushed back against the accusation that it has misrepresented in any way some of the positions Biden has taken or remarks he’s made about Social Security.

“Joe Biden should be honest with voters and stop trying to doctor his own public record of consistently and repeatedly trying to cut Social Security,” Shakir said.

“The facts are very clear: Biden not only pushed to cut Social Security—he is on tape proudly bragging about it on multiple occasions,” he continued. “The vice president must stop dodging questions about his record, and start explaining why he has so aggressively pushed to slash one of the most significant and successful social programs in American history, which millions of Americans rely on for survival.”

In a column this week, Alex Lawson, executive director of Social Security Works, said it is no longer possible for Biden to outrun his record on attacking Social Security—a history that Republicans will surely weaponize against him in the general election.

Biden’s record, argued Lawson—who endorsed Sanders officially in December—would be a “a major vulnerability should he become the Democratic nominee. In the 2016 election, Donald Trump continually promised to protect Social Security and Medicare. That was a lie. But lying has never bothered Trump, and he’ll be happy to use the same playbook in 2020.”


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