By LINDA BENESCH
In his recent State of the Union, President Donald Trump falsely pledged that “we will always protect your Medicare and we will always protect your Social Security.”
But just weeks ago, President Trump went to Davos to hobnob with Wall Street billionaires. While there, Trump sat for an interview with CNBC’s Joe Kernen, who asked him if “entitlements” would “ever be on your plate.” “At some point they will be,” Trump replied.
His comments rightfully created quite a stir, since “entitlements” (insider code) is how elites like those gathered in Davos refer to Social Security and Medicare.
Trump ran in 2016 on a promise not to cut Social Security and Medicare.
Insider code is necessary because cutting Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid is not only terrible policy but deeply unpopular even with voters who make up Trump’s base. He’s been breaking that promise ever since, but his Davos comments are the first time he’s overtly admitted that he lied to the American people.
Either Trump was lying to the Wall Street billionaires in Davos, or he was lying to the American people. Trump’s pre-2016 history on Social Security, his actions while in office, and the people he’s surrounded himself with reveal the truth.
LYING TO SENIORS
Trump thinks he can win re-election by lying to seniors about his own record. Social Security Works is setting the record straight.
In 2000, before he ever had aspirations of running for President as a Republican, Trump released a book with a chapter on Social Security. In this chapter, he displayed utter contempt for Social Security and its beneficiaries.
Trump referred to Social Security as “a Ponzi scheme.” He called for raising the retirement age to 70, because “How many times will you really want to take that trailer to the Grand Canyon?”
He said that he “plans to work forever,” which is easy enough for someone born with a silver spoon in his mouth. But what about everyday people who work in careers such as nursing or construction that involve hard physical labor?
Trump added that destroying Social Security by privatizing it “would be good for all of us.”
THE POLITICS OF SOCIAL SECURITY
What happened between 2000 and the 2016 election? Trump developed a keen understanding of the politics of Social Security.
He realized that, once you leave the Mar-a-Lago crowd, voters of all political affiliations overwhelmingly oppose cutting benefits. Yet Republican politicians, at the behest of their billionaire donors, go against the will of their voters by supporting cuts.
Trump exploited these divisions ruthlessly in the Republican primary, tweeting that “I was the first & only potential GOP candidate to state there will be no cuts to Social Security, Medicare & Medicaid.”
But just because Trump realized that publicly supporting benefit cuts is politically toxic doesn’t mean that his real views have changed.
Trump’s selection of Mike Pence as a running mate foreshadowed how he would govern. Pence supports raising the retirement age and led a group of House Republicans in criticizing George W. Bush’s Social Security privatization plan—for not going far enough! Someone genuinely committed to protecting Social Security would never select Pence as top deputy.
OUT THE WINDOW
Once elected President, Trump threw his commitments to protecting Social Security out the window. His most recent budget proposal would cut $25 billion from Social Security and $845 billion from Medicare. Fortunately, House Democrats have declined to pass that budget into law.
But, since then, Trump has found sneakier ways to attack Social Security.
Trump’s administration is in the process of jamming through a rule change that’s designed to rip Social Security benefits away from Americans with disabilities.
When Ronald Reagan made a similar rule change, hundreds of thousands wrongly lost their benefits and over 20,000 people died. The Reagan administration was forced to reverse the policy after massive public outcry. Now Trump wants to bring it back.
Social Security Works led an effort to deliver more than 150,000 public comments opposing this rule. But that’s not the only way we’re fighting back.
Trump’s administration is cutting Social Security right now. Trump, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, want to make more cuts in the future. But the plan was to keep that quiet until after the November election.
In Davos, surrounded by billionaires salivating over the prospect of gutting the American people’s earned benefits, Trump accidentally let the mask slip. At the State of the Union, he tried to put it back on.
It’s up to us to make sure that everyone in America sees what’s underneath before it’s too late.
(Linda Benesch is communications director for Social Security Works, a political action committee created in 2017 to elect leaders who will work to expand Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, and lower prescription drug prices for all Americans.)