On Tuesday President Trump will give his first State of the Union speech. It’s an excellent opportunity for him to re-affirm one of his most important campaign promises: not to cut Social Security and Medicare. Throughout the campaign, candidate Trump vowed that he would protect our nation’s social insurance programs, which millions of Americans rely upon for financial stability and healthcare – including seniors, people with disabilities and their families. In February of 2016, Trump pledged, “We’re not going to hurt the people who have been paying into Social Security their whole life.” In March, 2016, he promised to “leave Social Security the way it is” and to “not increase the [retirement] age.” In November, 2016, Trump made his most definitive assurance to date: “I am going to protect and save your Social Security and your Medicare. You made a deal a long time ago.”
We in the advocacy community worry that Trump’s actions since the election may speak louder than his campaign promises. He chose a budget director, Mick Mulvaney, who called Social Security a “Ponzi scheme” and promised at his confirmation hearings to urge the President to reconsider his campaign promises on earned benefits. His HHS Secretary, Tom Price, is an avid privatizer who has championed turning Medicare into a voucher program – and proposed cutting $449 billion from the program when he was a member of Congress. Even the President has said that earned benefit programs need to be “reformed” for future generations – which is usually code for cut and privatize.
Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin told Fox News on Sunday that the President’s budget plan does not include cuts to Social Security or Medicare. Even so, the New York Times has reported that Trump may still be compelled to break his promise on Social Security and Medicare to accommodate other items on his agenda: “The pressure to break that promise will come not only from congressional Republicans, but also from his own campaign pledges to build a wall along the Mexican border, increase spending on defense… ‘big league’ tax cuts and deficit control.”
In light of his promises and his seemingly contradictory actions since the election, here is what we would like to hear President Trump say in his State of the Union speech on Tuesday night:
o ”I meant what I said: I am going to protect and save your Social Security and your Medicare.”
o ”If my advisors push me to cut Social Security and Medicare or make other changes that would place a burden on beneficiaries, I will say, ‘Sorry, but no.’”
o ”I will veto any legislation that cuts or makes harmful changes to Social Security and Medicare. End of story.”
o “I will not help my party pit the older and younger generations against each other by perpetuating the myth that any changes to these programs will only affect future recipients. Not gonna happen.”
Nothing short of this will reassure jittery retirees, working Americans, people with disabilities and their families that President Trump will keep his campaign promises on Social Security and Medicare, and won’t toss them overboard by caving to Congress or his own advisors. President Trump must affirm the government’s commitment to hard-working Americans who paid into the system for most of their lives. It was, in his own words, a deal they made a long time ago.