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October 28, 1980: Reagan Denies Ever Opposing Medicare, Mandatory Social Security

President Carter and Ronald Reagan shake hands during the 1980 presidential debate.President Carter and Ronald Reagan shake hands during the 1980 presidential debate. [Source: PBS]During a campaign debate between President Jimmy Carter (D-GA) and his Republican challenger, Governor Ronald Reagan (R-CA), Carter lambasts Reagan for his decades-long opposition to Medicare (see 1962). “Governor Reagan, as a matter of fact, began his political career campaigning around this nation against Medicare,” Carter says. Reagan counters with what author Larry DeWitt calls “a deft quip and a blatant denial.” He says, “There you go again.” When the laughter subsides, Reagan continues: “When I opposed Medicare, there was another piece of legislation meeting the same problem before the Congress. I happened to favor the other piece of legislation and thought it would be better for the senior citizens and provide better care than the one that was finally passed. I was not opposing the principle of providing care for them. I was opposing one piece of legislation versus another.” Reagan is referring to a Republican alternative called “Bettercare” that was little more than a voluntary insurance program funded by Social Security. Carter also states that Reagan had, in his career, advocated making Social Security a voluntary program, which as Carter notes, “would, in effect, very quickly bankrupt it.” Reagan had frequently advocated such a position while supporting Senator Barry Goldwater’s 1964 presidential campaign, and as recently as 1975 during his unsuccessful primary campaign for the presidency, but Reagan now denies taking such a stance: “Now, again this statement that somehow I wanted to destroy it, and I just changed my tune, that I am for voluntary social security, which would mean the ruin of it, Mr. President, the voluntary thing that I suggested many years ago was that a young man, orphaned and raised by an aunt who died, his aunt was ineligible for Social Security insurance, because she was not his mother. And I suggested that if this was an insurance program, certainly the person who’s paying in should be able to name his own beneficiaries. And that’s the closest I’ve ever come to anything voluntary with Social Security.” Though Reagan’s claims are at odds with his previous positions, his denials go virtually unchallenged in the media. [Blevin, 2001; Larry DeWitt, 9/2004; American Presidency Project, 2009]

Entity Tags: Ronald Reagan, James Earl “Jimmy” Carter, Jr., Larry DeWitt, Medicare

Timeline Tags: US Health Care

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