GOP presidential debate moderator Kim Strassel asked businessman Donald Trump on Saturday night to account for his entitlement program proposals which, coupled with his other avowed financial policy plans, would lead to large deficits and the need for an almost impossible level of annual gross domestic product growth.
Trump has, in vague terms, vowed to "save Social Security," but like many other promises he's made, he's failed to elucidate how he would do it. And on his first attempt to answer, he did a lot of hedging, suggesting the problem would be solved by "bringing jobs back" from China, Mexico, Japan and Vietnam -- as well as reclaiming tax money that is currently sheltered offshore.
So Strassel went back in: "How would you actually do that?"
Trump offered, "There's tremendous waste, fraud and abuse. That, we're taking care of. It's tremendous. We have in Social Security right now thousands and thousand of people that are over 106 years old. Now, you know they don't exist. They don't exist. Tremendous waste, fraud and abuse, and we're gonna get it."
Trump has, in the past, suggested that an overwhelming amount of Social Security money is being paid out to people who have long been dead, and that this constitutes a significant amount of money that could be reclaimed to "save" Social Security.
At least his claims Saturday night are a bit closer to reality. On the stump, he's claimed that 6 million people over the age of 112 are getting benefits. But via Stephen Ohlemacher at PBS NewsHour, the facts lie betwixt and between:
Americans are getting older, but not this old: Social Security records show that 6.5 million people in the U.S. have reached the ripe old age of 112...
Only 13 of the people are still getting Social Security benefits, the report said. But for others, their Social Security numbers are still active, so a number could be used to report wages, open bank accounts, obtain credit cards or claim fraudulent tax refunds.
“That is a real problem,” said Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis. “When you have a fake Social Security number, that’s what allows you to fraudulently do all kinds things, claim things like the earned income tax credit or other tax benefits.”
While there are no documented instances of "fraudulent or improper payments to people using these Social Security numbers," the problem posed by not tending to these social security numbers is that it's ripe terrain for identity theft.
As PBS NewsHour reports, "IRS estimated it paid out $5.8 billion in fraudulent tax refunds in 2013 because of identity theft." That said, fixing this problem does not, in itself, retain revenue for the purpose of "saving Social Security." And it doesn't answer the original question -- how Trump would pull off all these amazing feats of budgetary derring-do without requiring an unheard-of level of GDP growth.
One last irony: Those who use the numbers fraudulently to get work permits, as some undocumented immigrants do, will pay into the Social Security system but not collect when they're older. So while getting rid of those numbers will eliminate a lot fraud for the IRS, they will actually make the Social Security trust fund worse off.
Editor's note: Donald Trump is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist, birther and bully who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims -- 1.6 billion members of an entire religion -- from entering the U.S.
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