President Trump has shown an uncanny ability to “project” issues onto his perceived foes — ascribing to them his own troublesome actions, especially when he tries to deflect bad news. That’s exactly what he did at a political rally in Montana Thursday night amidst a firestorm of White House controversies, unleashing a whopper about Americans’ earned benefits:
“[The Democrats] are going to hurt your Social Security so badly, and they are killing you on Medicare. I am going to protect your Social Security.”
A few days before the Montana rally, President Trump told reporters, “The Democrats wants to destroy Medicare. And we will save it.”
These are classic examples of Trumpian projection because the exact opposite of what the president said is true. Far from “protecting” Social Security and Medicare, President Trump and Republicans in Congress have been actively working to undermine them. In fact, GOP Congressional leaders promised to “reform” (which really means “cut”) Social Security and Medicare to help pay for trillions of dollars in Trump tax cuts benefiting the wealthy and big corporations.
As New York Times columnist Paul Krugman pointed out, House Budget Committee chairman Steve Stivers (R-Ohio) recently declared that “the federal government needs to save money by cutting spending on social programs. When pressed about whether that included Social Security and Medicare, he admitted that it did.”
The majority party is already hard at work on those cuts. Republicans have released a plan that would raise the Social Security retirement age to 70 and impose stingier cost-of-living adjustments — meaning massive benefit cuts for America’s seniors. The president’s 2019 budget slashes Social Security Disability (SSDI) benefits by a staggering $64 billion over ten years. His budget director once disingenuously claimed that SSDI is not part of Social Security even though the words “Social Security” are in its name.
The president and his party’s efforts to cut Medicare are just as glaring. House Republicans propose to axe $537 billion over the next decade from the program that provides health coverage to nearly 60 million older and disabled Americans. And since when does “saving” Medicare mean privatizing it? The 2019 GOP budget proposals would convert Medicare into a voucher program which would make it harder for seniors to choose their own doctors, and eventually end traditional Medicare. (Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich famously gloated that traditional Medicare would “wither on the vine” if privatized).
“Saving Medicare” certainly does not mean compromising the program’s solvency — but that’s exactly what the president and Republicans have tried to do. The Affordable Care Act had extended Medicare’s solvency, but the Republicans’ inexhaustible efforts to destroy Obamacare have had the opposite effect. According to the 2018 Medicare Trustees report, Medicare has lost three years of solvency since President Trump took office.
The president’s claim that Democrats will “destroy” Social Security and “kill” Medicare is patently absurd. Although they are currently in the Congressional minority, Democrats have committed themselves not only to protecting these programs for future generations — but expanding them, as well.
During the 115th Congress, Democrats have introduced no fewer than seven bills to preserve and boost Social Security. These include Rep. John Larson’s Social Security 2100 Act, which would keep the system solvent for the rest of the century while modestly expanding benefits — and Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-Vt.) like-minded Social Security Expansion Act.
Other Democratic bills would link cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) to a more generous inflation index specially geared to the elderly known as the CPI-E Rep. John Garamendi by (D-Calif.), which Rep. Larson’s bill also includes; offer Social Security beneficiaries a one-time emergency benefit payment equal to a 3.9 percent raise by Rep. Rick Nolan, (D-Minn.); and repeal a law that allows earned benefits to be garnished by the federal government by Sen. Ron Wyden, (D-Ore).
On the Medicare side, the minority party has been no less vigilant. Democrats defended the Affordable Care Act — which strengthened Medicare — against repeated attempts to repeal it and the Trump administration’s efforts at sabotage. The party champions a policy of allowing Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices directly with pharmaceutical companies — which could save the program billions of dollars every year. Bills introduced by Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) would empower the Department of Health and Human Services to do just that.
But those are only two of the positive pro-Medicare measures percolating on Capitol Hill. Senator Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) has introduced legislation protecting Medicare from benefit cuts by making it procedurally more difficult to increase the Medicare eligibility age and privatize the program. Bills from Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.) and Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) would together add much-needed vision, hearing and dental coverage to Medicare Senators Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Bob Casey (D-Penn.) along with Reps. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) and Lloyd Doggett (D-Tex.) have sponsored legislation that would permit the importation of drugs from Canada, reducing Medicare’s costs.
These are only a handful of more than ten Democratic bills to strengthen Medicare and help the seniors who rely on it. Unfortunately, none of their proposed improvements has made it to the floor of either house of Congress under Republican control. That may change after November’s elections.
Of course, these efforts to improve earned benefits come as no surprise to advocates and policy analysts. Democrats enacted these legacy programs in 1935 (Social Security) and 1965 (Medicare) and have worked tirelessly — against formidable opposition — to strengthen and expand both programs. The president’s claims simply don’t make sense.
There is not one shred of evidence that Democrats are attempting to destroy Social Security and Medicare. By the same token, Trump’s suggestion that he and his party are trying to “save” these programs can only be described as “fake news.” President Trump can “project” as much as he wants to, but it is obvious who truly supports Americans’ earned benefits — and who is working nonstop to undermine them.
Max Richtman is president and CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, a membership organization which promotes the financial security, health and well-being of current and future generations of maturing Americans.