Donald Trump ran for President on a promise, repeatedly made, not to cut Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid. He knew very well that this was a huge departure from the position of other Republicans, particularly House Speaker Paul Ryan and his fellow-travelers. Back in March, Trump drew an explicit contrast:
"You know, Paul [Ryan] wants to knock out Social Security, knock it down, way down. He wants to knock Medicare way down. I'm not going to cut it, and I'm not going to raise ages, and I'm not going to do all of the things that they want to do. But they want to really cut it, and they want to cut it very substantially, the Republicans, and I'm not going to do that."
Now that Trump is elected and no longer needs votes, it is clear that he was either lying or has become the puppet of Ryan and the rest of the Republican elite who have always hated Social Security and Medicare. In a sign that Ryan may be calling the shots, Trump has just announced that he is nominating Tom Price, one of Ryan's top lieutenants, to be his Health and Human Services Secretary.
Price succeeded Ryan as chair of the House Budget Committee in January of 2016, and immediately put Social Security in his cross hairs. He said that raising the retirement age, cutting middle class benefits through means-testing, and privatizing Social Security should all be "on the table and discussed" -- classic Washington-speak for "I favor the ideas but want political cover, because my constituents hate them." He also led Republicans in an unsuccessful effort to force unpopular and cruel cuts in Social Security disability benefits.
Price's record on Medicare is equally Neanderthal -- though that is probably being unfair to Neanderthals, who were not backward the way that Price is. Indeed, he actually said that "nothing has had a greater negative effect on the delivery of health care than the federal government's intrusion into medicine through Medicare" and "we will not rest until we make certain that government-run health care in ended."
It is disturbingly clear that Price wishes Medicare had never come into existence and will do everything he can to destroy it. Given Medicare's proven success - its low administrative costs, its efficient coverage of those with the greatest medical needs and costs, and its enormous popularity - it is no wonder that an anti-government zealot like Price hates the program. Medicare clearly demonstrates that there are some jobs - provision of health insurance, to name one - that the federal government does better than the private sector. The mere existence of Medicare and Social Security put the lie to Price's ideology that everything should be privatized.
Those determined to destroy Medicare are wasting no time. Right after the election, Paul Ryan falsely announced that repealing Obamacare requires "reforming" Medicare. Not only is this a lie, it is the height of hypocrisy: Ryan's proposal turns Medicare into Obamacare. (It makes one wonder: The Affordable Care Act was a boon to insurance companies, forcing all Americans to purchase their product. Is this Ryan's way of ensuring that they continue to have a captive market? But I digress...) Price, ever the loyal Ryan lackey, said that he planned on implementing Medicare privatization "six to eight months" into the Trump administration.
Now, Price may soon be in an even more powerful perch to destroy Medicare. Even before nominating him, Trump signaled that he was with the Ryan program. His campaign manager and senior adviser said that her boss was "open to hearing" Ryan's plan. Seems that Trump has picked up that Washington-speak pretty fast.
And now he nominates Tom Price. The writing on the wall is clear for any but those determined not to see. Trump's comments, made through his spokesperson and his selection of Price for his cabinet, along with a Social Security transition team packed with people who support privatizing the system, makes clear his true intentions.
Though I and others warned during the election that Trump would destroy Social Security and Medicare, it was hard for the electorate to hear the message because the mainstream media preferred not to focus on issues, and Trump's "no cuts" promise muddied the waters for those who did hear. Now the American people are in danger of finding out the hard way.
Whether Trump never intended to keep his hands off Medicare or is simply caving to Ryan, the American people need to hold him accountable and demand that he keep his campaign promise. That starts with insisting that Trump revoke his nomination of Price, and if he refuses, demanding the Senate not confirm him. (Moderate Democrat Joe Donnolly has already announced that he will oppose Price. If Democrats stand united, it only takes three Republican Senators to reject the nomination.)
Like Social Security, Medicare is overwhelmingly popular with Republicans as well as Democrats and Independents. No one voted to destroy Medicare. If that is what Republican politicians want, they should have the courage of their convictions. Don't act in the dead of night, as they appear to be planning to do. Rather, seek a mandate to destroy Medicare by running on that position in 2018. Romney-Ryan tried that in 2012, and we all know how that turned out.
Nancy J. Altman is founding co-director of Social Security Works. Join SSW in telling Donald Trump, Paul Ryan, and Mitch McConnell to keep their hands off the American people's earned Social Security and Medicare benefits.