In December, 2015 just ahead of the Iowa caucuses, then-candidate Donald Trump stood up at a town hall and reassured a concerned AARP Iowa member that they "were not taking their Social Security."
In fact, throughout the campaign all he would say is that there was "waste, fraud and abuse" inside the Social Security and Medicare systems, but promised his adoring fans that he was not -- absolutely not, no way, no how -- taking their Social Security or Medicare away from them.
Then Forbes reported that there would be no 2017 budget coming from the Trump White House, which breaks with current precedent. Forbes explained it away as being a way for Trump to avoid criticism by making specific proposals, while also avoiding all of the discussion about how he was making way for big reductions in tax revenues and spending.
But I suspected, and have now confirmed, that the real reason is as plain as Paul Ryan put it during the campaign: Trump can make all the promises, and Congress will break them. Or put Ryan's way, if voters elected Trump the extremists in Congress could have their way with him.
What they're planning
Sam Johnson, who is chair of the House Ways & Means Committee, has introduced legislation which is an amalgam of prior Republican efforts to kill Social Security. It raises retirement ages, cuts benefits, and gives really big tax cuts to wealthy people. You can read a very wonky letter from the Social Security Administration actuary here.
Details: Retirement age would be raised from 67 to 69 on Americans 49 or younger at the present. The formula to determine the initial payment amount would change. Chained CPI will be used to determine the cost-of-living allowances. It also provides for means-testing benefits, which will undermines the entire program, turning it into a welfare program for old and disabled people.
These cuts dig deep into the pockets of the poor and middle class beneficiaries of Social Security, now and in the future, in order to deliver really big tax breaks to less than 1 percent of the people in this country, further increasing income inequality and pushing more of the middle class into poverty. Billionaires like the ones in Trump's cabinet will rejoice, however, because they'll get a nice big fat tax cut as their reward for pushing these cuts.
You know, when Hillary Clinton and President Obama warned that we had everything to lose, they weren't kidding around. Between Trump's disastrous choice to put global warming deniers on the cabinet and surround himself with Goldman Sachs executives, he is signaling his promise to make the wealthy wealthier, while allowing us to lose everything.
Obviously, there will be a fight
Oh, yes there will be a fight. You betcha there will. Nancy Pelosi's office already issued a statement telegraphing Democrats' united opposition to cuts like this:
“Apparently nothing upsets House Republicans like the idea of hard-working people getting to enjoy a secure and dignified retirement. While Speaker Ryan sharpens his knives for Medicare, Chairman Johnson’s bill is an alarming sign that Republicans are greedily eying devastating cuts to Americans’ Social Security benefits as well.
“Cutting Social Security would have devastating consequences for Americans’ retirement security. At a time when Americans are more anxious about their retirement than ever, the top Republican on the Social Security Subcommittee is rolling out legislation that cuts benefits by more than a third, raises the retirement age from 67 to 69, cuts seniors’ cost of living adjustments, and targets benefits for the families of disabled and retired workers.
“Slashing Social Security and ending Medicare are absolutely not what the American people voted for in November. Democrats will not stand by while Republicans dismantle the promise of a healthy and dignified retirement for working people in America.”
Social Security Works has also released a statement, which says in part:
“No one voted for massive cuts to Social Security, nor to end the program as we know it. Donald Trump campaigned on a promise to not touch Social Security. But the powerful Chairman of the Social Security Subcommittee of the House Ways and Means Committee has just unveiled a proposal that would slash Social Security benefits and radically transform the program. The Johnson plan would gradually but inexorably turn Social Security from a program that replaces wages to one that produces essentially one flat benefit, independent of how much a worker contributed.
There will be organizing around this. I will post information as I get it along the way. In the meantime, I'd advise you to get some "Hands off my Social Security and Medicare!" signs ready to go, because this is an all-hands-on-deck major moment for all of us.
President-Elect Trump will be held to his promises not to take away these benefits after the inaugural, despite the fact that he thought he could just lie to everyone and get away with it. We've got the video. It wasn't ambiguous. He used those programs to win the primaries, and by God, he'll own it.