Why Donald Trump Dodged Chris Wallace’s Question About Social Security and Medicare

A question about Social Security and Medicare? Blink and you’d miss it — especially in a debate where a presidential nominee suggested he might not acknowledge his opponent’s victory, endangering the American tradition of peaceful transition of power.

But down to the wire, with just a few minutes left in the final presidential debate, moderator and Fox News anchor Chris Wallace managed to get in a question to Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump about preserving these important programs.

Donald Trump’s response? Returning yet again to a favorite line of attack for GOP politicians seeking to explain everything that’s wrong with America, he called for repealing the Affordable Care Act, or ACA. In this case, however, blaming the ACA is especially bizarre, since the reforms in the law are already working to make the health care system more efficient. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that repealing the ACA would drive up Medicare costs by more than $800 billion over 10 years.

If Donald Trump’s pivot to the ACA seems strange, that’s because he knows his tax plan spells disaster for Social Security and Medicare — and the less he says about the devastating cuts required to turn his tax plan into reality, the better. While Trump has denounced plans to cut Social Security and Medicare, his plans for overhauling the tax code make clear that his comments on Social Security and Medicare are just another empty promise.

An independent analysis on Trump’s tax plan estimates that it would force a $6 trillion hit to federal coffers over the next 10 years. And while the top 1 percent would make out like bandits under President Trump — taking roughly half of the benefits from his tax plan — the loss in federal revenue could force devastating cuts to Social Security and Medicare. In fact, paying for Trump’s tax agenda would require cutting federal spending by an average of approximately 13.5 percent — which would mean cutting Social Security by $1.7 trillion and Medicare by $1.1 trillion over the next decade if these cuts were implemented across the board.

That would mean a $168 per month cut to the average Social security benefit of $1,238. At a time when over 40 percent of America’s seniors would live in poverty without Social Security, the U.S. cannot afford to gamble with this fundamental program.

Trump promises that he will deliver huge economic growth that will pay for his tax cuts, doubling down on the trickle-down fable that slashing taxes for the wealthy is the best way to grow the economy. But economists agree that Trump’s economic growth claims are simply fantastical and that Trump’s agenda will hurt the economy in the long run. What is clear, however, is who benefits from Trump’s tax plan. The wealthiest Americans and especially the Trump family, which could receive a $4 billion windfall from Trump’s repeal of the estate tax.

If elected President, Trump would be more open to cutting Social Security and Medicare than his campaign promises suggest. Trump economic advisor Sam Clovis has said a Trump administration would start considering changes to Social Security and Medicare after getting into office. And in 2000, Trump called Social Security a Ponzi scheme, and advocated for reducing benefits and privatizing the program. A Republican Congress led by Speaker Paul Ryan would be eager to finally enact their plans to cut and privatize these programs.

There is no need to privatize Social Security or Medicare or slash the benefits that these programs promise to the American people. Instead, the next president should build on the Obama administration’s substantial progress of increasing efficiency and reducing costs in Medicare. And by raising additional revenues instead of giving tax cuts to the wealthy, lawmakers can expand Social Security benefits and protect a program that has provided millions of Americans with a basic level of income protection since 1935.

Trump dodged Wallace’s question on Social Security and Medicare during the debate, retreating to the long-running Republican canard of hanging America’s problems on Obamacare. That’s because he knows his plans to give the wealthy a massive tax break would substantially undermine two programs that provide a basic lifeline for millions of Americans.

Ryan Erickson is the associate director for economic campaigns at Center for American Progress Action Fund. 

Harry Stein is the director of fiscal policy at the Fund.

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