During his campaign, Donald Trump promised to completely eliminate the national debt, which was $19 trillion at the time. However, the debt is estimated to rise by another $1 trillion from fiscal year 2019 alone (which ends September 30), bringing the total national debt to $22 trillion. Health policy experts and economists blame ballooning deficit on the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, but Trump has a plan to reduce the debt, and it involves Medicare and Social Security cuts.
“Starve the beast”
Several Senate Republicans (namely John Thune from South Dakota, John Barrasso from Wyoming, and Mitch McConnell from Kentucky) are encouraging Trump to cut social programs should he be re-elected in 2020, similar to how they encouraged him to pass a tax cut for billionaires and corporations in 2017. This is step one in the political strategy known as “starve the beast.”
“Starve the beast” was coined by Larry Kudlow while he served in the Reagan administration. There are two parts to the strategy:
- Increase the national debt.
- Use the national debt to justify cutting social programs like Medicare and Social Security.
In 1996, Kudlow explained the theory to the Wall Street Journal: “Tax cuts will starve the beast… Specifically, tax cuts provide a policy incentive to search for market solutions to the problems of Social Security, health care, education and the environment.”
Kudlow is now head of Trump’s National Economic Council.
Why Social Security cuts won’t influence the national debt
By law, Social Security cannot raise or lower the national debt. Medicaid, supplemental nutritional programs, and unemployment benefits can, but Social Security cannot.
Social Security is a self-sustaining program funded by a trust fund. If there is a boom in population, Social Security taxes will rise accordingly in order to support those Americans when they age into the system. This happened in the 1980s as the first baby boomers began reaching middle age, and has happened again several times since.
Social Security as a civil right
One-third of American seniors are dependent upon Social Security to provide at least 90 percent of their income, and over 60 percent use it for at least half of their income. To make Social Security cuts at a time when there is a retirement income recession would harm American seniors for years to come.
Social Security experts have even argued that Social Security benefits are a civil rights issue. During their working years, many workers of color often held lower-income jobs as opposed to white workers, making their Social Security benefits smaller as well as other retirement savings they may have accumulated. Many seniors of color depend greatly upon these benefits to provide basic necessities like food and healthcare.
Social Security and Medicare are not “entitlements.” They are earned benefits, and cutting them could harm Americans for generations.