STUMP » Articles » Friday Trumpery: Social Security (and a little Medicare) » 3 February 2017, 10:46

Where Stu & MP spout off about everything.

Friday Trumpery: Social Security (and a little Medicare)  


3 February 2017, 10:46

If enough things from my interests come up in this new administration and/or new Congress, I plan dropping it on Friday, like all the savvy politicos do (or so I hear).

Also, it’s easy filler. It’s about as clickbaity as I’m going to get. Maybe.

But before I begin, let’s check in with my top referrers!

Howdy to the facebook people, as well as the person searching google for stories about pension fraudsters getting dead people’s benefits.

Thanks, y’all! Hang out for a while!


So, this is a bit of bait-and-switch. The last thing I had from Trump on entitlements was September 2016, where it was noted that Trump said this:

Before he clinched the Republican nomination, Trump broke with rivals such as New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Senator Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush by opposing Social Security cuts. At a rally in Tampa, Florida on Aug. 24, Trump reaffirmed his promise to protect Social Security, “which everybody else wants to cut to shreds.”

Of course, making some changes would protect Social Security, as noted here.

When I go to the White House Issues page currently, I see this:

America First Energy Plan

America First Foreign Policy

Bringing Back Jobs And Growth

Making Our Military Strong Again

Standing Up For Our Law Enforcement Community

Trade Deals That Work For All Americans

Not really seeing anything that touches on my own issues.

But whatever, the official appointees are for positions that are related to my interests, so let’s check it out.

Mick Mulvaney is the appointee for Office of Management and Budget, which is in charge of running the $$ numbers for the President.

Mulvaney had been questioned about both Social Security and Medicare:

Budget nominee Mulvaney defends support for cuts to Social Security, Medicare

President Trump’s nominee to become the nation’s budget director, Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.), defended Tuesday his support of cuts to popular entitlement programs that Trump vowed to keep intact and emphasized that he would bring a “fact-based approach” to the role.

In appearances before the Senate budget and homeland security committees, Mulvaney acknowledged that several of his key positions on spending and the national debt directly contradicted Trump’s campaign pledges, and statements made by some of the president’s top advisers. But Mulvaney presented himself as a “straight shooter” and said he would continue to warn about the growing costs of Social Security and Medicare.

Mulvaney would bring a stridently hawkish voice to the Office of Management and Budget. On Tuesday, he said he remains in favor of raising the retirement age for Social Security to 70 but emphasized that he would not reduce benefits for current recipients. He also reiterated his support for means-testing to qualify for Medicare.

So here’s the thing. The OMB is a support role for the President. So they can run the numbers, provide their projections and recommendations, and… Trump just says “I see what you’re showing, but we’re not touching that.”

And that’s that.

To be sure, Congress could pick up the ball and run with it if they desired. OMB projections showing the need for cuts would provide them cover, in addition to projections from the Congressional Budget Office.

We see such comments here:

Senate GOP hopes Trump’s OMB pick influences him on entitlements

Washington (CNN)In a role reversal on Tuesday, Senate Democrats were imploring one of President Donald Trump’s nominees to uphold a campaign promise he made — while Republicans sought assurances the nominee would try to change Trump’s mind.

As Democrats on the Budget committee repeatedly questioned Mulvaney about whether he would live up to Trump’s campaign promise to not touch Social Security or Medicare, Republicans on the committee pressed Mulvaney to tell Trump that wouldn’t be possible.

“Mr. Trump did say some things during the campaign that I wish he had not said,” Tennessee Republican Sen. Bob Corker said. “They’re totally unrealistic, make no sense whatsoever, and I just wonder if you, is your sense that when you talk with him about the five levers, when you talk with him about the fact that it’s impossible for us to balance the budget … without dealing with these other programs, do you think he understands that?”

Corker was referring to the need to reform entitlement programs, which Mulvaney described as doable through five different pressure points, including retirement age and means testing.

Well, it will be interesting to see what comes of that. I’d be somewhat impressed if he could change Trump’s mind on that score, but I’m doubtful. That Trump appointed Mulvaney doesn’t really mean he agrees with Mulvaney. There are going to be a lot of appointees that Trump will not know very well as he’s been outside that sort of politics, and I assume people like VP Pence are heavy influencers for these choices.


Mike Hiltzik on Mulvaney nomination:

Politicians aiming to cut Social Security and Medicare use weasel words to hide their plans. Let’s call them on it.


We’ve been particularly wary of plans described as “fixes” to Social Security and Medicare. As we’ve observed, these are invariably “fixes” in the same sense that one “fixes” a cat. But several other such weasel words surfaced in coverage of the confirmation hearing for Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.), President Trump’s budget director-designate. NPR reported that Mulvaney “wants to overhaul” Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. CNN said that he “wants to overhaul” the programs and believes they “need revamping to survive”—a journalistic twofer!

Let’s not allow these euphemisms to obscure Mulvaney’s true opinions about these programs. He proposes to raise Social Security’s normal retirement age to 70 (it now tops out at 67 for those born in 1960 or later), and to means-test Medicare. These are benefit cuts any way you define them.

Mulvaney also has described Social Security as a “Ponzi scheme,” a term he tried to evade during his Jan. 24 confirmation hearing. He said he was just trying to explain Social Security’s cash flow, which “takes money from people now in order to give money to people now.” That’s not a Ponzi scheme. Moreover, that’s not a full and accurate description of Social Security’s cash flow, which collects money from people now and banks some of it to provide benefits for people in the future. (Do we really want a budget director whose understanding of one of America’s most important fiscal programs is so vacuous?)

1. What is a Ponzi scheme if not taking money from new suckers to pay the older entrants?

Ponzi scheme at Wikipedia:

A Ponzi scheme (/ˈpɒn.zi/; also a Ponzi game)1 is a fraudulent investment operation where the operator, an individual or organization, pays returns to its investors from new capital paid to the operators by new investors, rather than from profit earned through legitimate sources. Operators of Ponzi schemes usually entice new investors by offering higher returns than other investments, in the form of short-term returns that are either abnormally high or unusually consistent.

The first person to receive Social Security benefits definitely made an incredible return. Of course, that deal has become less lucrative over time, so I guess we could say they’re not promising outlandish returns.

But 2. There’s not much banking money in the Social Security Trust Fund. I’ll leave this right here for now (check out the “income” table lower down on the page, especially the “General Fund reimbursements” column).

And as for Medicare… well, if you need to go to sleep, Check out the 2016 Trustees Report.

That said, I do agree with Hiltzik that they need to be straightforward with what the effects of these changes would be. Obviously, it would reduce value of benefits. That’s the whole point.

That says, it’s not clear to me that Mulvaney is at all hiding what he’s about. Some quotes from his hearing.

President Donald Trump’s pick to head the White House budget office said Tuesday that increasing the retirement age for Social Security should be considered, as Democrats pummeled him over protecting that program and Medicare.

Mick Mulvaney, a Republican congressman from South Carolina, made the statement during an exchange with Sen. Lindsey Graham.

“Do you think we need to look at adjusting the age yet again because we live longer?” asked Graham, also a South Carolina Republican.

“I do, yes sir,” Mulvaney replied.

Heck, the American Academy of Actuaries put out a brief in August 2008 with this very recommendation:

As life expectancy increases, the percentage of workers’ lives spent in retirement continues to grow, while the number of working years stays relatively constant. Inevitably, Social Security’s costs will exceed what its scheduled financing will support. This is primarily a demographic problem that demands a demographic solution.

That was only 9 years ago. It’s not like the situation has gotten much better. As it is, Social Security benefit formulas already have baked into it an increasing normal retirement age. Back for my grandparents, it was 65 years old; for my mother it is 66 (she’s not even 66 yet); for me, it’s 67. That’s based on current law.

You don’t hear as much about that, do you?


I thought I’d do a little search in the tweets of @realDonaldTrump.


I guess we’ll see.