Retire Better: What are the presidential candidates saying about Social Security?

A previous version of this story misstated how many terms Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis had served.

I’m guessing that most folks are aware of the perilous state that Social Security, the gargantuan—and for tens of millions of citizens absolutely essential—federal program is in.

But for those who aren’t, a storm is approaching.

If nothing is done to shore it up, Social Security’s so-called “Trust Fund” — its current cash reserve of about $2.9 trillion — will run out by 2033, one year sooner than last year’s estimate. After that, retirees are looking at projected benefit cuts of up to 23%. There are few, if any, issues of greater importance to older voters than Social Security.

Since the 2024 presidential campaign is well under way, I thought it would be a good idea to see what the candidates are saying about this. 

Let’s start with the incumbent, President Biden. He wants to make several big changes, notably making all income above $400,000 subject to payroll (i.e. Social Security) taxes. Currently, payroll taxes are capped at $160,200. He also wants to change the way that cost-of-living increases are calculated each year, by using what the White House and many economists consider a more accurate gauge of inflation. The first proposal is a flat-out tax increase, something most Republicans refuse to support.   

But what are their ideas? Here is what the leading Republican contenders for the White House have said about Social Security. In some cases, what they’re saying now that a presidential spotlight is upon them differs from what they have said previously. I list them in order of their current poll standings as compiled by Real Clear Politics. 

Donald Trump. Legal troubles notwithstanding, the former president looks certain to win the GOP nomination, and has a chance of getting his old job back next year. Trump has said on the campaign trail this year that Social Security should be left alone. On the other hand, in his 2000 book — “The America We Deserve” — Trump called Social Security a giant Ponzi scheme and said the full retirement age should be lifted to 70. And as president, he actually made proposals that the Social Security Administration’s chief actuary warned would completely gut the Trust Fund by 2023. His idea found no traction on Capitol Hill, even from most members of his own party.  

Ron DeSantis. Politicians from retiree-rich Florida tread especially carefully around Social Security, and the second-term governor is no different. “Look, I have more seniors here than just about anyone as a percentage,” DeSantis told Fox News back in March. “You know, we’re not going to mess with Social Security as Republicans. I think that that’s pretty clear.” 

And yet a decade ago, when DeSantis was a Florida congressman, he joined 103 Republicans in voting to raise the minimum age for both Social Security and Medicare to 70, according to an analysis by the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. That proposal also included an idea for the federal government to transition out of Medicare by simply giving seniors a lump of money that they could use to buy private health insurance.

Vivek Ramaswamy. The 38-year-old Harvard-educated son of Indian immigrants has no need for Social Security himself, given that his net worth is estimated at close to $1 billion. He has said little about entitlement programs, other than to say that they need to be reformed. But this would be painless, he claims, because by “abandoning the climate cult, drilling more, fracking more, burning coal unapologetically,” the economy would boom, providing enough revenue to stave off benefit cuts or higher eligibility ages. Washington Post columnist George Will attributes such talk to the “unlimited optimism of the inexperienced.” 

Nikki Haley. I give the former South Carolina governor and United Nations ambassador credit for a political rarity: speaking truth to power, like blasting her rivals for avoiding talk of overhauling entitlements. “Any candidate that says they’re not going to touch entitlements means that they’re basically going to go into office and then leave America bankrupt.” (Actually, the U.S. government can’t go bankrupt, but I digress.) She later said in a Bloomberg interview that the Social Security retirement age is “way too low,” but didn’t say what it should be. The “FRA” — full retirement age — is currently 67, though retirees can receive reduced benefits beginning at 62. Haley has also called for limiting benefits for wealthy Americans, and for expanding Medicare Advantage programs (which pays for a lot of things that “basic” Medicare doesn’t.  

Mike Pence. The former vice president also deserves credit for being candid about entitlements, saying that cuts to Medicare and Social Security should be “on the table for the long term.” He told CNBC back in February, “We’re looking at a debt crisis in this country over the next 25 years that’s driven by entitlements, and nobody in Washington, D.C., wants to talk about it.” 

Pence avoided specifics, though hinted that the full retirement age should be lifted. He also said that younger Americans should be allowed to invest a portion of their payroll taxes elsewhere, with the potential of earning higher returns (I wrote this recent column about the example countries like Sweden are setting here).

Of course, no matter what Biden, Trump and all the other presidential contenders say, it’s important to remember that their views alone aren’t enough. Making any changes to entitlements will require broad support in both the House and Senate. But extremists on both sides of the aisle — the far-right Freedom Caucus and the far-left Progressive Caucus in the House, for example — are so far apart on issues like this, that it’s frankly hard to see the one thing that will be essential for this, or any other problem to get fixed: compromise. 

Source link

About The Author

Scroll to Top