Trump Says He’s Open to Entitlement Cuts

Trump Says He’s Open to Entitlement Cuts

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Plus, why Biden and Sanders are still fighting over Social Security
Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Biden and Sanders Trade More Shots Over Social Security

Former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders continue to trade shots over Social Security.

On Tuesday night, Sanders tweeted out an ad featuring an audio clip from a 1995 Biden Senate speech in which the future vice president touts his efforts to balance the federal budget: “When I argued that we should freeze federal spending, I meant Social Security as well. I meant Medicare and Medicaid. I meant veterans benefits. I meant every single solitary thing in the government. And I not only tried it once, I tried it twice, I tried it a third time, and I tried it a fourth time.”

The Sanders spot then cuts to the Vermont senator promising at a campaign rally to expand Social Security benefits.

“Let's be honest, Joe. One of us fought for decades to cut Social Security, and one of us didn't. But don't take it from me. Take it from you," Sanders said in his tweet.

Biden on Wednesday was asked on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” whether he would cut Social Security benefits if he becomes president.

“No, no, no, no,” he said. “And we weren’t talking about cutting them either then.”

He went on to accuse the Sanders camp of taking his past statements about Social Security out of context. "My support for Social Security has been solid my entire career," Biden said. "I did join with a lot of other Democrats to make sure we ‘fix Social Security,’ made it solvent during the Reagan years."

In an ad released Tuesday night, Biden’s team had accused Sanders of unleashing false negative attacks — in particular, a Sanders campaign charge that alleged Biden had supported Paul Ryan’s proposed cuts to Social Security. "As Democrats, we can't launch dishonest attacks against fellow Democrats," the ad said. "Bernie's campaign is not telling the truth."

Biden’s ad points out that the former vice president fought attempts to privatize Social Security and proposes to expand the program and increase benefits if he wins the White House. “I've been fighting to protect — and expand — Social Security for my whole career,” Biden said in a tweet. “Any suggestion otherwise is just flat-out wrong.”

In response, Sanders’ campaign manager, Faiz Shakir, said in a statement: “Joe Biden just released the first negative ad of the 2020 Democratic primary, and let’s be clear about why: he’s trying to distort his decades-long record of proposing and voting for cuts to Social Security benefits for millions of people. Joe Biden is no defender of Social Security, and a negative ad won’t help him outrun his record.”

Why it matters: “The disagreement touches on one of the core questions of the Democratic primary: whether voters support a candidate like Sanders who wants a vast expansion of the social safety net, or a candidate like Biden who warns about moving too quickly to boost benefits and about ballooning budget deficits,” CNBC’s Jacob Pramuk writes.

It's worth noting, though, that on the issue of Social Security, Biden isn’t proudly defending his record or his past willingness to consider cuts as part of efforts to forge difficult compromises for the sake of what he in the past likely would have called fiscal responsibility.

“For the vast majority of his career, Biden has been a deficit hawk who’s willing to sacrifice Social Security and Medicare benefits for the sake of achieving smaller budget gaps,” Vox’s Matthew Yglesias writes. “He’s even bragged about it to establish a rhetorical contrast with Republican fiscal irresponsibility. And unlike some Biden-related controversies, this isn’t ancient history. It’s a position Biden maintained as Barack Obama’s vice president — and that Sanders and Warren fought against.”

Biden may be running, in large part, on a (questionable) promise of being able to restore some sense of bipartisanship to a country that’s as polarized as it’s ever been in recent history. But he has responded to the attacks from Sanders by insisting he’d protect and expand Social Security — not by saying that he’d be the best person to tackle a looming Social Security crisis by hammering out another bipartisan reform.

That’s an indication of how far the debates over Social Security and the federal budget deficit have shifted, even as the Social Security trust funds are projected to be depleted by 2035 and the deficit is rising above $1 trillion — and it’s a sign that Biden’s previous positions now represent a political vulnerability. As Slate’s Jordan Weissmann writes, “Biden’s past willingness to put popular entitlements on the table could be a serious political liability in a race against Donald Trump, who has repeatedly promised not to cut Social Security benefits for the elderly.”

On the other hand, there is this …

Trump Says He’s Open to Entitlement Cuts

As some of the leading Democratic presidential candidates continue to clash over Social Security, President Trump said Wednesday that he would consider making adjustments to social safety net programs such as Medicare if he were to win a second term.

In an interview at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, CNBC’s Joe Kernen asked Trump if entitlements would “ever be on your plate?”

“At some point they will be,” Trump said. “And at the right time, we will take a look at that.”

Alan Rappeport and Maggie Haberman of The New York Times noted that while Trump pledged during the 2016 campaign to protect entitlements, his most recent budget proposed substantial cuts in Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security:

“The president has already proposed cuts for some safety-net programs. His last budget proposal called for a total of $1.9 trillion in cost savings from mandatory safety-net programs, like Medicaid and Medicare. It also called for spending $26 billion less on Social Security programs, the federal retirement program, including a $10 billion cut to the Social Security Disability Insurance program, which provides benefits to disabled workers.”

Most of Trump’s rambling response to Kernen, though, was focused on what he called “the hottest economy in the world,” and the president provided no details on future budget plans. James Freeman of The Wall Street Journal pointed out that Trump did not actually mention cutting entitlement spending (much to Freeman’s disappointment), and that all he really said was that he would consider it in his second term.

Trump did say, however, that he wants to cut taxes again. Asked if he needs to raise taxes or lower spending to address the growing deficit, Trump said, “We’re actually probably going to lower taxes, if you want to know the truth.”

Fact Check of the Day: The Trump Economy

Speaking at Davos Tuesday, President Trump took credit for “an economic boom the likes of which the world has never seen before.” Tory Newmyer of The Washington Post took a look at some key economic variables, including GDP growth, employment and the national debt to see just how much of the president’s claim was fact and how much was Trumpian braggadocio. His general conclusion:

“The president is correct that as of this point in his tenure, some economic indicators are at or near record highs, or improving for some people after remaining stagnant. The Dow Jones has posted record numbers, unemployment has continued its downward trajectory to a half-century low, and wages are starting to increase for the middle class. (Though as our colleagues and others have noted, Trump often exaggerates the unemployment rate for African Americans and Latinos).
“But that’s not the full story. The upward trajectory of many economic metrics -- ranging from unemployment to the stock market -- began under President Barack Obama. As our colleague Heather Long wrote last year, the ‘data shows a mixed picture in terms of whether the [Trump] economy is any better than it was in Obama’s final years.’”

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