Ok, not a debate so much as a battle to see who can cut seniors’ benefits faster. While Trump remains the only GOP Presidential candidate who promises he won’t cut Social Security, even that promise became squishy last night. More on that, later.
Here’s just a sampling of some of last night’s comments on what the remaining GOP candidates plan for generations of American families counting on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, followed by our comments:
Senator Marco Rubio
“Social Security will go bankrupt and it will bankrupt the country with it.”
This is conservatives’ favorite lie. Social Security isn’t going bankrupt. According to SSA actuaries, the nearly $3 Trillion Trust Fund will be depleted in 2034 (as planned) to cover the baby boomer generation. After that, there will still be enough income coming into the program to pay 79 percent of all benefits owed. If Congress does nothing seniors will face a 21% benefit cut. A 21% benefit cut is not bankruptcy and certainly could not cause America’s bankruptcy.
“Medicare could very well become the option of using my Medicare benefit to buy a private plan that I like better”
The Republican dream of giving seniors a coupon to go out and buy private health insurance is a favorite of Speaker Paul Ryan and those in Congress who hope to destroy Medicare once and for all. The program is too popular to kill outright, so they’ve chosen a privatization route for Medicare that is a political kissing-cousin to President Bush’s failed effort to privatize Social Security. If they can’t kill these programs, conservatives want to (at least) turn America’s most successful retirement and health security programs over to industry so Wall Street, insurance companies and drug makers can profit.
Senator Ted Cruz
“Social Security right now is careening towards insolvency... We need to see political courage to take this on and save and strengthen Social Security.”
In the classic case of “save” meaning “slash” and “strengthen” meaning privatize, Senator Cruz offers the well-worn conservative trope that cutting benefits to millions of American families while at the same time cutting taxes for the wealthy shows political courage and leadership. See our comments above on the “careening towards insolvency” nonsense.
“We need to change the rate of growth of benefits so it matches inflation instead of exceeding inflation...we need to have for younger workers, that a portion of your tax payments are in personal accounts.”
If hard to imagine how anyone can seriously argue that a zero cost of living increase for 3 out of the past 7 years, somehow exceeds inflation. Seniors, veterans and people with disabilities have seen their costs increase in the same years their COLA was flat. Social Security beneficiaries need a new COLA formula, one that actually measures seniors’ cost of living. However, Ted Cruz wants the Chained CPI to cut benefits not to accurately measure inflation.
“I also had a plan in 1999 to save Social Security and take the $5 trillion projected surplus and not only have Social Security for our young people, but also to give them private accounts.”
John Kasich’s plan to “save” Social Security is standard GOP “we-must-slash-it-to-save-it” boilerplate with a little seniors just need to "get over it" thrown in. Kasich would cut benefits to pay down the debt and privatize Social Security so seniors can watch their contributions ride the Wall Street roller coaster. Then he’d cut billions more with lower COLA’s through the Chained CPI (again, what’s lower than zero?) and turning Social Security into a welfare program by means testing.
Since we just wrote about Trump’s Social Security promises (there’s not really a plan) in detail we’ll focus only on last night’s twists. For the first time ever, Trump’s promises to not cut Social Security benefits were offered with important qualifiers. For a candidate who has no problem making big promises, last night’s about Social Security have taken on a downright passive tone – as if Trump, as President with potentially with a GOP House and Senate, wouldn’t have the power to leave Social Security benefits alone:
“I will do everything within my power not to touch Social Security”
“...it's my absolute intention to leave Social Security the way it is.”
This speech Trump gave to conservatives at the 2013 Conservative Political Action Conference provides one suggestion as to why he remains the only GOP candidate to promise he won’t cut Social Security & Medicare benefits (hint, it’s not because he loves the programs):
"As Republicans, if you think you are going to change very substantially for the worse Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security in any substantial way, and at the same time you think you are going to win elections, it just really is not going to happen," Mr. Trump said, adding that polls show that tea partyers are among those who don't want their entitlements changed." Donald Trump, 2013 CPAC speech, Washington Times
If you missed last night’s debate, you can read excerpts on what the candidates had to say specifically about Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid on our SeniorVote2016 website.