By Mary Johnson, editor
One of the biggest decisions President Trump will make in coming weeks is whether to sign legislation that would overhaul Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. On the campaign trail Trump repeatedly promised that he would not cut Social Security benefits. But his choice of budget director, Mick Mulvaney, who supports raising the eligibility age for Social Security and privatizing Medicare, raises new questions as to whether Trump intends to keep those promises.
Our first opportunity to learn how Trump really feels about benefit cuts comes as a contentious recurring issue returns to haunt the 60 million people who depend on Social Security benefits — lifting the federal debt limit. After suspending the debt limit since November 2, 2015, the debt cap was reinstated on March 16, 2017. A failure to lift the debt limit in time later this year would affect payment of Social Security benefits.
The Social Security Trust Fund is the single biggest government account holding U.S. debt, with the federal government owing the Trust Fund about $2.8 trillion. Since 2010 the program has paid out more in benefits than it receives in cash revenues, requiring the U.S. treasury to borrow to pay the interest due on the non-marketable bonds or I.O.U.s held by the Trust Funds, money that is needed to pay the benefits of current beneficiaries.
Since 2010 when the retirement and survivors Trust Fund first started running a cash deficit, budget negotiators have attempted to use Social Security cuts, including COLA cuts, as a means of reducing the federal budget deficit. Lawmakers shocked senior advocates in 2015, after inserting at the last minute, provisions that cut some people’s Social Security benefits. The provisions were stuck into a “must pass” debt bill that made significant changes to a method of claiming Social Security benefits known as “file and suspend” — one of the few means married couples had to maximize their payouts. The changes affected people who were already at full retirement age, cutting the overall amount benefits that those individuals were counting on receiving over the course of their retirement.
TSCL believes that COLA cuts are likely to become a target once again in upcoming debt limit negotiations. Mulvaney has challenged the need to raise the national debt ceiling in the past. GOP lawmakers will be looking for ways to fund Trump priorities like the wall along the border, and the proposal to cut Social Security cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) will once again become a key feature of plans to reduce the federal budget deficit.
Wondering what you can do? Write letters to the editor of your local news publications. Call your Members of Congress toll free (paid for by TSCL), 1-844-455-0045. Attend town halls in your area. Let’s make Congress re-think plans for cutting COLAs, Medicare and the benefits that older Americans depend on!