President Trump paid lip service to preserving Social Security in his State of the Union address Tuesday night, but obscured his true intentions regarding a program that covers 178 million workers—and which another 64 million Americans depend on for basic financial security. The President owed it to current and future seniors to honestly explain his plans for Social Security, including his recent comments that he would consider cutting ‘entitlements’ because it’s “the easiest of all things.” But by failing to be forthright, President Trump tacitly empowers fiscal hawks who want to slash and privatize the program, while breaking his campaign promise to protect seniors’ earned benefits.
“We will always protect your Social Security,” said the President, while his administration works to undermine the program. President Trump’s 2020 budget would cut $25 billion from Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) over ten years. He also has proposed a new rule that would make it harder for current SSDI beneficiaries to continue collecting benefits. Meanwhile, his past budgets would have deprived the beleaguered Social Security Administration of the funding it needs to improve customer service to seniors and people with disabilities. None of this amounts to “protecting” Social Security.
The President claimed that the economy is “the strongest it’s ever been”—an assertion that has already been proven false by fact-checkers. But in touting the current economy, the President fails to appreciate the $1.6 trillion in annual economic stimulus that Social Security benefits provide to communities across the country. He should know that cutting Social Security would hurt the vaunted ‘Trump economy.’
The President also was not forthcoming Tuesday night about his efforts to reduce prescription drug prices—another crucial issue for seniors living on fixed incomes. “I’m calling for… legislation that… dramatically lower(s) prescription drug prices,” he said. But President Trump has failed to support a bill to allow Medicare to negotiate costs directly with Big Pharma. As if to remind him, Democrats chanted “H.R. 3!,” the drug pricing legislation that passed the House in December, which Mitch McConnell pronounced dead on arrival in the Senate. If President Trump were serious about lowering prescription prices, he would support a bill that the Congressional Budget Office says would save Medicare some $350 billion in drug costs.
Meanwhile, President Trump has yet to demonstrate a willingness to take on Big Pharma in a meaningful way, preferring to work around the edges. The administration’s own proposals have been weak, tossed out by the courts, or withdrawn.
If our economy is as prosperous as President Trump claims, then why are so many citizens cutting pills or forgoing the groceries they need to feed their families? We must take concrete action now to lower exorbitant drug prices. Congress should pass meaningful prescription drug legislation now, and President Trump should sign it into law.
President Trump did little tonight to reassure seniors and their families that he will protect their financial and health security. His administration will continue to favor the wealthy and large corporations, while targeting Americans’ earned benefits and tearing away at the social safety net. For a president who seeks re-election, he clearly is on the wrong side of these life and death issues.
Max Richtman is president and CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare. He is former staff director at the United States Senate Special Committee on Aging.