As the White House scrambles to contain the political backlash sparked by President Donald Trump's latest threat to defund Social Security if reelected in November, one progressive advocacy group said Thursday that Trump's long history of attacking the New Deal program means he should be taken at his word—and diligently opposed—when he openly states his intention to "terminate" the system's revenue stream.
"The White House is telling us not to believe our own eyes and ears," Social Security Works president Nancy Altman said in response to attempts this week by Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany and one anonymous administration official to walk back Trump's overt threat last weekend to unilaterally and permanently end the payroll tax, which funds Social Security and Medicare.
"Earlier this year, Trump told a room filled with Davos elites that he would look into cutting entitlements—code for Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid—if he is reelected."
—Nancy Altman, Social Security Works
During a press briefing Wednesday, Trump repeated his threat without equivocating. "On the assumption I win," the president said, "we are going to be terminating the payroll tax after the beginning of the new year."
By attempting to massage and downplay Trump's comments, Altman said, White House officials "insist that Trump did not mean what he said, and 'has no plans' to defund Social Security. So, let's review the evidence."
Altman went on to offer several examples of Trump's hostility to Social Security from both before he took office—in his 2000 book "The America We Deserve," Trump called for the privatization of Social Security—and during his presidency, despite his 2016 campaign vows to protect the popular safety net program from cuts.
"Once in office, Trump's proposed budgets included cuts to Social Security," Altman wrote. "Earlier this year, Trump told a room filled with Davos elites that he would look into cutting entitlements—code for Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid—if he is reelected. Last week, Trump showed us how he would defund Social Security, when he unilaterally ordered the IRS to stop collecting Social Security contributions temporarily."
Altman said that whether one believes the president's own words or his advisers' attempted walkbacks, "the only prudent course for people who care about their earned Social Security is to defeat Trump this November."
So do you believe Trump, or do you believe the frantic walkbacks of his advisors, who have realized defunding Social Security is political arsenic?
The only prudent course for people who care about their earned Social Security is to defeat Trump this November.
— SocialSecurityWorks (@SSWorks) August 13, 2020
Last Saturday, as Common Dreams reported, Trump signed an executive order instructing the Treasury Department to defer collection of the employee-side payroll tax from September 1 through the end of the year. The order has been met with widespread confusion as well as condemnation from experts and progressive observers who say the deferral is an unconstitutional assault on Social Security and Medicare.
"Employers don't know whether the order is mandatory, what the process will be for eventually paying back the deferred taxes, or even which employees are actually eligible," Bloomberg Law reported this week. "Those questions make it extremely difficult for employers to carry out the changes and adjust their payroll systems."
In an op-ed for Common Dreams on Friday, Max Richtman, president and CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, marked the 85th anniversary of the enactment of the Social Security Act of 1935 by warning that Trump "has been enlisted in the effort to dismantle" the program.
"The most glaring example is the president's unilateral (and possibly unconstitutional) action to defer the payroll taxes that fund Social Security through the end of the year," Richtman wrote. "Upon announcing this executive order, the president promised to 'terminate' payroll taxes if re-elected. That would either bankrupt Social Security or force depend on general revenue, which would destroy the program's worker-funded nature and open it up to benefit cuts in the name of deficit reduction."
"On this anniversary, we must renew our commitment to preserving and expanding Social Security in the face of these relentless efforts to undermine it," Richtman added. "Fortunately, the broader public—those who paid for, depend on, and cherish their earned benefits—have an opportunity to elect new leaders who will protect seniors, the disabled, and their loved ones against the 'hazards and vicissitudes' of life that President Roosevelt understood so well."