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 Social Security cuts is getting.
Indeed, look at Trump's handling of Social Security. You may find real flaws in the armor of a Best-of-All-Time economy cloak that Trump tries to wear.
Even as Trump rivals 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. He promises he is open to revamping entitlement programs toward December.
End of the year? You mean just after the first week of November when we are all supposed to troop to the polls to re-elect Trump?
As usual, Trump just put the statement out there with no details, with no factual underpinning and with assertions that tackling entitlement spending is "the easiest of all things." For sure, we voters should be aware that Legislative Trump is definitely putting Medicare and Social Security cuts on the auction block.
Blame the Democrats
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.
Actually, maybe it is good for Trump to toss this red meat out there early. After all, it is a real issue. It perfectly captures both the Trump case and the Republican case in the elections.
Unfunded tax cuts
Let's review: Trump and a compliant Republican Congress passed enormous unfunded tax cuts in 2018 that were promised to help the middle class but that actually has helped only corporations and the wealthiest. He and they also vastly increased military spending, even while preaching we should end longtime military commitments.
At the same time, the general economic strengthening that began years before Trump has continued on his watch. Unemployment rates have plummeted to all-time lows as wage increases have lagged. And the country's deficit is up about 16 percent over Trump's first day because no one is paying for the tax cuts and military increases.
Now, it appears, Trump is going to tell 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.
More seniors receiving benefits
For years, we've recognized that declining numbers of working adults and increasing longevity would stress Social Security funding. 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 back the idea. In the statement, the president is not pushing benefit cuts but rather eliminating waste and fraud.
"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.
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.