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Scrambling Trump promises to ‘save’ social security after threatening to cut it — but it’s seniors who will pay for his recklessness

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Female Trump supporters gaze on the president in a Raleigh, NC rally. Image via Chip Somodevilla/AFP.

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Terry H. Schwadron
Terry H. Schwadron

It used to be said that cutting Social Security was politics’ third rail, a fatal taking of positions.

If that’s still true, you wouldn’t know it from the emerging attention that cutting Social Security is getting.

Indeed, look at Trump’s handling of Social Security, and you may find real flaws in the armor of a Best-of-All-Time economy cloak that Trump tries to wear.

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Even as Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden mix it up over whether Biden did or did not say something supportive about a Republican plan in 2008 by then-Rep. Paul D. Ryan for spending reductions, here comes Donald Trump to promise that he is open to revamping entitlement programs towards the end of the year.

End of the year? You mean just after the first week of November, when we are all supposed to troop to the polls to reelect Trump?

As usual, Trump just put the statement out there with no details, with no factual underpinning, and asserting that tackling entitlement spending is “the easiest of all things.” But for sure, we voters should be aware that legislative Trump is definitely putting Medicare and Social Security cuts on the auction action block.

Within days, Trump somehow was trying to turn his statements into a defense of Social Security against incursions by Democrats. Confused?

Just in case you didn’t have enough other reasons to want to reconsider your vote for November, this issue comes packed with dynamite.

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Actually, maybe it is good for Trump to toss this red meat out there early. After all, it is a real issue, and it perfectly captures both the Trump case and the Republican case in the elections.

Let’s review: Trump and a compliant Republican Congress passed enormous unpaid for tax cuts in 2018 that were promised to help the middle class but that actually has helped only corporations and the wealthiest in our country. He and they also vastly increased military spending, even while preaching that we should be ending longtime military commitments.

At the same time, the general economic strengthening that began years before Trump have continued on his watch, and unemployment rates have plummeting to all-time lows, but wage increases have lagged.  And the country’s deficit is up about 16% over Trump’s first day, because no one is paying for the tax cuts and military increases.

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Until now.

Now, it appears, Trump is going to ask seniors and the near-seniors to pay for the difference through reductions in long-promised benefits.

If we lived in France, we’d all be donning yellow shirts and shutting down the subways and highways.

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For years, we’ve recognized that a decline in working adults would face issues paying for an increasing number of seniors, who, through courtesy of medicines, generally are living longer. Already, social security pays benefits to 70 million seniors.

Speaking with CNBC from the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Trump said tackling entitlement spending is easy. “At the right time, we will take a look at that. You know, that’s actually the easiest of all things, if you look,” Trump said. He later added when asked about entitlements: “Well, we’re going — we’re going to look. We also have assets that we’ve never had. I mean, we’ve never had growth like this.”

Of course, this prompted a White House spokesman to issue a statement to walk the idea back. In the statement, the president is not pushing “benefit cuts” but rather that the administration would be aiming to eliminate things such as “waste” and “fraud” in the programs.

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“President Trump is keeping his commitment to the most vulnerable Americans especially those who depend on Medicare and Social Security,” the statement said. “His budgets have proposed more savings to mandatory programs than any President in history, including lowering drug costs, eliminating waste, fraud, and abuse, and getting people off welfare and back to work.”

Um. I get social security, as do most people I know, or they are counting on it as they look ahead. I’m not sure where the fraud is hiding. We spend the monthly benefit on things like rent, food and medical care.

As a 2016 presidential candidate, Trump promised not to cut Medicare, Medicaid or Social Security, a position typically more in line with Democrats than other Republicans. As president, his budget proposals as president have called for slight reductions in Medicare and bigger changes to Medicaid spending. He is also seeking curbs to Social Security disability programs, but he has not pursued changes to seniors’ Social Security benefits.

Trump’s recent remarks have appeared to dismiss the importance of the budget deficit, which has grown to about $1 trillion a year under his administration. The government is projected to spend $950 billion on Social Security benefits for older Americans and $150 billion in Social Security disability payments this year, and another $850 billion on Medicare program, which is primarily health care for seniors. Social Security benefits are funded through payroll taxes.

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Recent efforts to address rising costs in Social Security and Medicare have been met with stiff, bipartisan resistance. With a Democratic House, it is unlikely to see approval for such proposals, but it may well become a campaign refrain.

Indeed, Trump promised to cut taxes again in a second term, only worsening all of these issues.

If Trump says it is good, look again before accepting it.

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