President Donald Trump on Saturday afternoon openly vowed to permanently "terminate" the funding mechanism for both Social Security and Medicare if reelected in November—an admission that was seized upon by defenders of the popular safety net programs who have been warning for months that the administration's threat to suspend the payroll tax in the name of economic relief during the Covid-19 pandemic was really a backdoor sabotage effort.
Announcing and then signing a series of legally dubious executive orders, including an effort to slash the emergency federal unemployment boost by $200 from the $600 previously implemented by Democrats, Trump touted his order for a payroll tax "holiday"—which experts noted would later have to be paid back—but said if he won in November that such a cut would become permanent.
The Trump campaign was apparently so satisfied with the public acknowledgement of the president's promise to make the payroll tax permanent—a move that would inherently bankrupt the Social Security system—that it clipped the portion of the press conference and shared on social media immediately after it concluded. The president's critics did as well, though they carried a different message:
Friendly reminder, if victorious on November 3rd, @realDonaldTrump will GUT Social Security and Medicare.… https://t.co/aSVgLa7KRq— American Bridge 21st Century (@American Bridge 21st Century) 1596919447.0
Defenders of the program, including the advocacy group Social Security Works, were quick to point out the implication of what the president said and condemned Trump for threatening the program that has kept countless millions of people out of poverty—during retirement years or due to disability—since it was created over 75 years ago.
"We just heard it straight from Trump's own mouth," the group responded: "If reelected, he will destroy Social Security."
Commonly known as the payroll tax, those are taxes paid both by employers and employees—as dictated by the The Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA)—that go to pay for both Social Security and Medicare.
Candidate Trump promised to protect Social Security and Medicare. President Trump just promised to PERMANENTLY DEF… https://t.co/yfFJMx7Juy— SocialSecurityWorks (@SocialSecurityWorks) 1596919448.0
"Trump's executive order, which seeks to defer Social Security contributions, is bad enough," said Nancy Altman, president of Social Security Works. "But his promise to 'terminate' FICA contributions if he is reelected is a full-on declaration of war against current and future Social Security beneficiaries."
"Social Security is the foundation of everyone's retirement security," Altman added. "At a time when pensions are vanishing and 401ks have proven inadequate, Trump's plan to eliminate Social Security's revenue stream would destroy the one source of retirement income that people can count on. Moreover, Social Security is often the only disability insurance and life insurance that working families have. If reelected, Trump plans to destroy those benefits as well."
More like: "Trump Tells Social Security to Drop Dead" #SaveSocialSecurity #PayrollTax https://t.co/kf9dJtxP4C— Alliance for Retired Americans (@Alliance for Retired Americans) 1596922270.0
As the Trump administration has foreshadowed this kind of move for months, economists on Friday warned again that any effort to undermine the payroll tax would do practically nothing to help struggling workers and families, but everything to sabotage two of the most popular and successful programs in the country.
"It's like borrowing money from the Social Security and Medicare trust funds to give to employers just to hold," Seth Hanlon, a tax expert and senior fellow at the left-leaning Center for American Progress, explained to Business Insider. "They're just gonna hold the withheld taxes because they'd have to pay it eventually."
So today, Trump - cut unemployment by $200/week in the middle of the pandemic - drained funding from Social Secu… https://t.co/8EhbhilQia— Swing Left (@Swing Left) 1596920040.0
As Common Dreams reported earlier this week, retirees and their advocates have vowed to fight any "attempt to gut" the program.
On Saturday, Altman called on every lawmaker in Congress to denounce what she called Trump's "unconstitutional raid on Social Security." In the upcoming election, she said, "voters should treat any Senator or Representative who is silent as complicit in destroying Social Security. Furthermore, every American who cares about Social Security's future must do everything they can to ensure that Trump does not get a second term."