“Does the name Ponzi all of a sudden come to mind?” – Donald Trump, 2000
As voters in 12 Super Tuesday states head to the polls today we thought it would be a good time to look at arguably the biggest policy flip seen by any Presidential candidate, let alone a front-runner, on the issue of Social Security. Simply put, the differences between Presidential candidate Donald Trump in 2000 and candidate Donald Trump in 2016 are h-u-u-u-g-e.
Here are just a couple of the Social Security proposals the Donald supported last time he ran for President:
Raise the Retirement age to 70
“A firm limit at age seventy makes sense for people now under forty,” Trump writes. “We’re living longer. We’re working longer. New medicines are extending healthy human life. Besides, how many times will you really want to take that trailer to the Grand Canyon?” Donald Trump, The America We Deserve.
As we’ve discussed here many times, the problem with the “everyone is living longer” argument for raising the retirement is that it’s simply not true.
“Men at the top of the economic ladder saw an eight-year increase in life expectancy, while men at the bottom saw virtually no change.”… National Academy of Science
Privatize Social Security
“Privatization would be good for all of us. Directing Social Security funds into personal accounts invested in real assets would swell national savings, pumping hundreds of billions of dollars into jobs and the economy. These investments would boost national investment, productivity, wages, and future economic growth.” Donald Trump, The America We Deserve.
The American people, of all political parties and ages, don’t want their guaranteed Social Security benefits put on the Wall Street roller coaster. They know that what’s good for Wall Street has proven disastrous for Main Street.
So, here were are with a second Presidential campaign and the promises are quite different. First we have this MSNBC appearance in February:
SCARBOROUGH: What about raising the retirement age? People are living older than they ever have —
TRUMP: Let me just say. Waste, fraud and abuse is massive in Social Security and Medicaid.
SCARBOROUGH: Why wouldn’t you raise the retirement age if Americans are getting older and living longer and longer.
TRUMP: I’m not doing it. I don’t want to do it. I don’t want to do it. Two reasons. Number one I don’t want to do it and number two, the Democrats aren’t going to do it. You know the Republicans also have to get elected, you do know that. And if you watch Bernie, and if you watch Hillary, they don’t only want to not cut, they want to increase Social Security.
SCARBOROUGH: All right.
TRUMP: Now. I’m not doing it for that reason. I’m just saying this. We don’t have to do it. We’re going to make our economy strong, we’re going to make our economy rich, and we’re not going to have to —
While no one has been able to pin Trump down to his actual plan for Social Security, his message in the South Carolina debate shifted to the perennial GOP promise to cut waste, fraud and abuse and grow the economy:
TRUMP: First of all, the — when you say I’m the only candidate, if you listen to the Democrats, they want to do many things to Social Security and I want to do them on its own merit. You listen to them, what they want to do to Social Security, none of these folks are getting elected, OK, whether they can do it or not. I’m going to save Social Security. I’m going to bring jobs back from China. I’m going to bring jobs back from Mexico and from Japan, where they’re all — every country throughout the world — now Vietnam, that’s the new one.
TRUMP: You have tremendous waste, fraud and abuse. That we’re taking care of. That we’re taking care of. It’s tremendous.
However, even those who’ve built careers urging Social Security cuts or privatization know this “waste, fraud and abuse” claim doesn’t hold water:
“Now, it is true, according to Social Security’s inspector general, that there are as many as 6.5 million Social Security numbers linked to people over the age of 112. Virtually none of those people are receiving benefits. Their accounts simply were never officially closed following their deaths.” …Michael Tanner, CATO Institute
Here are the real numbers for the Trump’s mythically huge “waste, fraud and abuse” claims:
- Since 1989, SSA’s annual administrative costs have been about 1%
- Fraud in SSI is less than 1% with underpayments more likely than overpayments.
- There are Social Security numbers linked to people that should have been closed; however, it has not led to significant overpayments
A speech Trump gave to conservatives at the 2013 Conservative Political Action Conference provides one suggestion as to why the massive change of position:
“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
As the polls close tonight on Super Tuesday, we’ll likely see the GOP field narrow. This certainly wouldn’t be the first time a candidate promised a politically popular proposal on the campaign trail and then acted very differently in office. However, America’s seniors and their families must expect more from these candidates than big promises, no details and being wrong on the facts.