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Amid Economic Crash, Kushner Tries To Kill Social Security

This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, the policy Donald Trump is fixated on has nothing to do with ramping up testing, getting protective equipment to workers, or sending resources to nursing homes where tens of thousands of seniors are dying of COVID-19. Instead, he's obsessed with cutting payroll taxes, Social Security's dedicated revenue.

Now, Trump's economic advisers and his unqualified son-in-law Jared Kushner have another way to undermine Social Security: The so-called "Eagle Plan," which would be more aptly named the Work 'Til You Die Plan. It would give people $10,000, but only if they agreed to sign away a portion of their future Social Security benefits. This plan asks desperate families, terrified of going without food or being thrown out of their homes, to sacrifice their retirement.

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Despite Promises, Trump Is Scheming To Cut Social Security Benefits

In his State of the Union address, Donald Trump claimed that “we will always protect your Social Security.” But just two weeks ago, Trump said just the opposite. He was in Davos, hobnobbing with Wall Street billionaires. While there, he sat for an interview with CNBC’s Joe Kernen, who asked him if “entitlements” would “ever be on your plate.” “At some point they will be,” Trump replied.

The word “entitlement” is how Washington elites refer to Social Security, as well as Medicare and Medicaid. Having “entitlements” “on your plate” is Washington insider-code for these vital programs. Insider code is necessary because cutting Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid is not only terrible policy but also deeply unpopular even with Trump’s base.

Either Trump was lying two weeks ago, or he was lying to the American people during the State of the Union address. It is not hard to see what is going on here.

In 2000, well before Trump ran for president as a Republican, he released a book with a chapter on Social Security. In this chapter, he displayed utter contempt for Social Security and its beneficiaries. Trump referred to Social Security as “a Ponzi scheme”—an outrageous slander, since a Ponzi scheme is a criminal ploy to defraud.

As the true elitist that he is, Trump called for raising the retirement age to 70, because “how many times will you really want to take that trailer to the Grand Canyon?” Trump said that he “plan[s] to work forever,” implying that everyone else should as well—even if they have jobs like nursing or construction that involve hard physical labor. He added that destroying Social Security by privatizing it “would be good for all of us.” The “all of us” to whom he referred were presumably his fellow tax cheats with inherited wealth.

But Trump demonstrated, well before running for office, that he understood the politics of Social Security. In a 2011 interview with Sean Hannity, Trump said that Republicans should be very careful “not to fall into a Democratic trap” of advocating Social Security cuts without bipartisan cover, or they would pay the price politically.

As a presidential candidate, Trump exploited that knowledge. He realized that even voters who tend to support Republicans overwhelmingly oppose cutting Social Security. Yet Republican politicians, at the behest of their billionaire donors, go against the will of their voters by supporting cuts.

Seizing his advantage by lying, Trump claimed in the Republican primary debates and on the campaign trail that he would not cut Social Security. Reinforcing his lie, he tweeted that “I was the first & only potential GOP candidate to state there will be no cuts to Social Security, Medicare & Medicaid.”

But just because Trump realized that supporting benefit cuts is politically toxic doesn’t mean that his real views changed. Trump’s selection of Mike Pence as a running mate foreshadowed how he would govern. Pence supports raising the retirement age and led a group of House Republicans in criticizing George W. Bush’s Social Security privatization plan—for not going far enough! Once elected president, Trump chose another staunch opponent of Social Security, Mick Mulvaney, as his budget director.

Trump’s budget proposals reflect Trump’s, Pence’s, and Mulvaney’s anti-Social Security ideology. The 2020 budget Trump proposed last March would slash more than $84 billion from Social Security and its companion program, Supplemental Security Income, in just the next 10 years.

Fortunately, thanks to Democratic control of the House of Representatives, those budget cuts were dead on arrival. But Trump has found sneakier ways to attack Social Security. Through stealthy rule changes, which don’t need to go through Congress, the Trump administration is working to make it harder for Americans to receive the Social Security they have earned, and working to make it harder to continue to receive the benefits they now get.

As just one recent example, Trump’s administration is in the process of jamming through a rule change that’s designed to rip Social Security benefits away from Americans with disabilities. When Ronald Reagan made a similar rule change, hundreds of thousands wrongly lost their benefits and over 20,000 people died. The Reagan administration was forced to reverse the policy after massive public outcry. Now Trump wants to revive the disastrous effort.

Trump says one thing when seeking votes and something quite different when exercising his power. That explains his promise in the 2016 election and in his recent State of the Union address not to cut benefits. While people can be forgiven for believing Trump in 2016, despite his earlier comments, now his intentions are clear.

Trump has been working hard to undermine Social Security in his first term. But he has been constrained because he wants a second term. If elected to that second term, all constraints will be gone.

In Davos, surrounded by billionaires salivating over the prospect of gutting the American people’s earned benefits, Trump accidentally let the mask slip. He’s trying to put it back on, but it’s too late. We’ve all seen what’s underneath. If Trump is re-elected, supporters of Social Security will be in for the fight of our lives.

Nancy J. Altman is a writing fellow for Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute. She has a 40-year background in the areas of Social Security and private pensions. She is president of Social Security Works and chair of the Strengthen Social Security coalition. Her latest book is The Truth About Social Security. She is also the author of The Battle for Social Security and co-author of Social Security Works!

This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Trump Promises To ‘Look At’ Social Security And Medicare Cuts

Donald Trump ran on an absolute promise not to cut entitlement and social safety net programs. On Wednesday, he said he hopes to do just that — and soon.

Asked by CNBC if entitlement cuts were something he would consider, Trump said he would “toward the end of the year.”

“At the right time we will take a look at that,” he said. “You know that’s actually the easiest all things, if you look, because it’s such a low percentage.”

Mandatory programs like Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security actually make up about half of the federal government’s spending each year.

Trump also dismissed concerns that he would follow through on past promises not to cut Medicare and other mandatory spending programs, claiming the economy under his administration was the world’s “hottest.”

“We also have assets that we never had. I mean we never had growth like that. We never had a consumer that was taking in through different means over $10,000 per family,” he claimed. “African American, Asian American, Hispanics are doing so incredibly. Best they’ve ever done. Black, best they’ve ever done. African American, the numbers are incredible.”

Trump’s has repeatedly promised not to cut Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, never once conditioning that promise on a good economy.

In 2011, Trump tweeted that a “robust growing economy is how to fix Social Security and Medicare—not cuts on Seniors.”

Throughout his 2016 campaign, he used it to differentiate himself from the rest of his party and even Democrats.

“Every Republican wants to do a big number of Social Security. They want to do it on Medicare, they want to do it on Medicaid,” Trump said in an April 2015 speech, not long before launching his White House bid. “And we can’t do that. And it’s not fair to the people that have been paying in for years.”

In May 2015, he once again claimed, “I was the first & only potential GOP candidate to state there will be no cuts to Social Security, Medicare & Medicaid.”

And days later, he told the conservative Daily Signal, “I’m not going to cut Social Security like every other Republican and I’m not going to cut Medicare or Medicaid.”

“Every other Republican is going to cut, and even if they wouldn’t, they don’t know what to do because they don’t know where the money is. I do. I do,” he said.That June, upon launching his campaign, Trump boasted that he could save those programs — with no cuts — by getting rid of waste, fraud, and abuse.

“The Republicans who want to cut SS & Medicaid are wrong. A robust economy will Make America Great Again!” he tweeted in July that year.

Days before the 2016 election, Trump once again claimed that “Hillary Clinton is going to destroy your Social Security and Medicare. I am going to protect and save your Social Security and your Medicare.” Again, in December 2017, Trump’s then-legislative affairs director Marc Short reaffirmed that the campaign promise not to cut Medicare would be honored, though he embraced cuts to Medicaid to “protect the program.”

As recently as October 2018, Trump claimed that he alone could defend Medicare from attacks, tweeting, “Democrats will destroy your Medicare, and I will keep it healthy and well!” he said.

In addition to contradicting his past promises, Trump’s suggestion now, that the robust economy makes it easier to cut entitlements, also makes little sense.

While Medicaid provides healthcare to poorer Americans, Medicare and Social Security provide health and retirement income for older Americans of all economic levels.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.

Trump Proposes Social Security Changes That Impoverish Disabled

Published with permission from the Independent Media Institute

American workers contribute to Social Security with every paycheck. When they do, they are earning comprehensive insurance protections. Social Security insures against the loss of wages due to old age, disability, or (for the surviving family of a worker) death. While Social Security is best known as a retirement program, disability and survivor’s benefits are equally essential.

An attack on any part of Social Security is an attack on the entire system and all current and future beneficiaries. The latest proposal from Donald Trump’s administration, which is designed to rip benefits away from hundreds of thousands of Americans with disabilities, amounts to a declaration of war on Social Security.

The Trump administration proposal would require millions of Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) beneficiaries to re-prove their eligibility for benefits as often as every six months—far more frequently than is currently the case. There is no justification for this policy. The United States already has some of the strictest eligibility criteria for disability benefits in the world. More than half of all claims are denied.

We should be making it easier for workers to claim the Social Security benefits they’ve earned with every paycheck, not harder. And ripping benefits away from current beneficiaries, who rely on them to survive, is even worse.

We know what the effects of the Trump proposal would be, because Ronald Reagan implemented a very similar benefit cut back in the 1980s. Reagan’s policy ripped away the benefits of 200,000 Americans with disabilities. The New York Times reported that “people with obvious physical and mental disabilities” lost their benefits “without having been interviewed.”

Ultimately, Reagan was forced to reverse his attack on Social Security after massive public outcry, and bipartisan condemnation from Congress—but not before 21,176 people died, including several who died by suicide, “because their benefits were cut off.”

Donald Trump himself might not be a diligent student of history, but his advisers—men like Mick Mulvaney, Trump’s chief of staff and a longtime enemy of Social Security—know exactly what they are doing. They want to resurrect Reagan’s Social Security cut knowing full well that it killed people.

This could impact any of us, even those of us who are currently healthy. Imagine that you are hit by a car tomorrow, and suffer life-altering injuries that prevent you from working. You’re faced with crushing medical bills, and you’ve lost your income. In such situations, SSDI benefits are a crucial lifeline. Donald Trump wants to rip that lifeline away.

Trump and Mulvaney are targeting people with disabilities first, because they perceive them as politically vulnerable. But if they are allowed to get away with this attack, it will be only the beginning. They want to destroy every part of Social Security, including retirement benefits, and turn it over to their criminal friends on Wall Street.

We must stop Trump’s plan. The Social Security Administration is collecting comments on the proposal until the end of January. You can comment opposing the plan here. Everyone must also call their elected officials. Congressional condemnation played a huge role in forcing Ronald Reagan to reverse his version of the attack, and it can stop Trump in his tracks.

If we let the politicians in Washington, D.C., take away some people’s earned benefits, it means they can take away all of our earned benefits.

This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Alex Lawson is the executive director of Social Security Works, a non-profit advocacy group that supports expanding benefits to address America’s growing retirement security crisis. Lawson has appeared on numerous TV and radio outlets and is a frequent guest host of The Thom Hartmann Program, one of the top progressive radio shows in the country.