Donald Trump Has a Social Security Problem

Social Security has formed the bedrock of financial means for millions of Americans for generations. Paying out billions in retirement funds and welfare aid each year, the program has endured since the Social Security Act was signed into law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1935, following the worst financial crisis of the 20th century.

But as Donald Trump gears up for his third run for the White House in November’s presidential election, experts have warned that his comments on the nation’s largest social insurance program could come back to haunt him after he hinted in an interview this month that he could be open to cuts.

“So first of all, there is a lot you can do in terms of entitlements, in terms of cutting,” Trump said on the subject of Social Security and Medicaid during a call in to CNBC’s Squawk Box program on March 11. “And in terms of, also, the theft and the bad management of entitlements—tremendous bad management of entitlements—there’s tremendous amounts of things and numbers of things you can do.” Trump later loosely clarified what he meant by his comments, telling conservative news website Breitbart: “I will never do anything that will jeopardize or hurt Social Security or Medicare.”

Trump campaign spokeswoman Karoline Leavitt later told CNN that Trump was “clearly talking about cutting waste, not entitlements.”

“President Trump delivered on his promise to protect Social Security and Medicare in his first term, and President Trump will continue to strongly protect Social Security and Medicare in his second term,” Leavitt said, adding: “The only candidate who poses a threat to Social Security and Medicare is Joe Biden.”

Still, the damage was done. His comments were roundly admonished by the Democratic Party and its supporters. President Biden stepped in, taking to X, formerly Twitter, to promise the electorate that given another term in the White House, he would not cut Social Security benefits and Medicaid.

Asked for comment, Trump’s campaign team referred Newsweek to a January 2023 video statement by Trump, in which he said: “Under no circumstances should Republicans vote to cut a single penny from Medicare or Social Security to help pay for Joe Biden’s reckless spending spree.”

It is easy to see why Democratic circles capitalized on Trump’s more recent comments despite his later walk back. Polls have consistently shown that, across party and demographic lines, the American public stands in strong support of Social Security. In 2022, an estimated 70.6 million Americans received money via the program.

Voters will be keeping keen eye on Social Security Administration (SSA) policy in the run up to the election. A February poll conducted by Redfield and Wilton Strategies found that 41 percent of Americans say Social Security will be extremely important in determining how they vote in November. Additionally, the majority of respondents said they would oppose cutting benefits to those on Social Security (69 percent) or raising the retirement age (52 percent).

Trump’s most recent comments have “invited people to revisit the track record of Trump’s previous statements,” Chris Orestis, president at retirement advice firm Retirement Genius, told Newsweek, which could spell trouble for the presidential candidate in the coming months. “As this election year unfolds, these statements are all on the record and will be fodder actively used against him to rally the votes of seniors with the warning that ‘when someone tells you who they are or what they plan to do—believe them’.”

Orestis is right: this is not the first time Trump has demonstrated support for cutting Social Security. As far back as 2000, writing in his book The America We Deserve, Trump called Social Security a “ponzi scheme” and advocated for Americans being allowed to “dedicate some portion of their payroll taxes to a personal Social Security account that they could own and invest in stocks and bonds.”

While in office, Trump’s fiscal 2021 budget endorsed billions of dollars in Social Security cuts for disabled seniors, despite a promise in the run-up to the 2016 election that he would not cut amounts for any Social Security claimant.

Donald Trump Has a Social Security Problem


Orestis points out that his track record stands at odds with the communities Social Security serves. “None of what he has said or done regarding entitlements can be considered helpful with the constituencies who rely on these programs for retirement income and health care,” he continued.

“Trump has tried to backtrack on what he said but it has opened the door for the Biden campaign to position the president and Democrats as the protectors of these programs in opposition to Trump and the Republicans. The big question is are people paying attention or does all of this just get lost in the noise of our current political environment?”

In terms of official policy announcements, Trump has not given a clear indication on what his plans are for the government agency, even in the face of a looming funding crisis that could see benefits automatically cut within the next decade. In short, reserves that fund the SSA could run out within the next decade unless major action is taken. According to the 2022 Social Security Trustees report, come 2034, retirees will only receive 77 percent of their Social Security pension if the problem isn’t addressed.

The seismic challenge of how to keep the SSA solvent is a pertinent issue for whoever ends up in the White House come November, its former chief operating officer told Newsweek.

James B. Lockhart, who served as COO of the SSA under former U.S. President George W. Bush, and is currently a senior fellow at the Bipartisan Policy Center, said: “President Biden and former President Trump have said many times over the last several years that they will protect Social Security. Neither mentions that in nine years everyone receiving Social Security then and, in the future, will have their benefits cut by almost a quarter.”

“Social Security’s annual payments will grow from today’s $1.3 trillion to $2.5 trillion in 2034,” he explained. “To pay promised benefits it will require half a trillion dollars per year. To fix it for 75 years, Social Security would need an additional $22 trillion today. Given our massive deficits and growing debts and interest expenses, it is extremely questionable whether money will be available to pay those benefits.”

But despite the enormity of the problem, Lockhart is pessimistic over the likelihood of either Biden or Trump dealing with it. “With the impending election and both Biden and Trump fearing elderly voters, neither will face up to the massive impending deficits at Social Security,” he continued.

While Biden has sought to quell fears over Social Security’s impending funding crisis, he has still only outlined limited plans for addressing it. According to a fact sheet issued by the White House on March 11, the president rejects “any proposal to cut benefits, as well as proposals to privatize Social Security.” On the issue of insolvency, the same brief outlines that “protecting Social Security should start with asking the highest-income Americans to pay their fair share.”

Finding a direct comparison between the two candidates’ plans is somewhat challenging, as certified financial planner Robert Brokamp from The Motley Fool, a Virginia-based private financial and investing advice company, points out. “It’s difficult to compare President Trump’s plan to President Biden’s since, as far as I can tell, President Trump has not proposed one,” he told Newsweek.

“President Trump has said on occasion that he’d cut benefits, but also said on other occasions that he wouldn’t,” he continued. “However, given the opposition to raising taxes in general among Republicans, it would be safe to presume that benefit cuts would be their preferred solution.”