WASHINGTON ― In what would have been an unimaginable scenario in past years, a group opposed to cutting Social Security benefits is pinning its hopes on a Republican president.
Social Security Works, one of several advocacy groups that fiercely opposes even modest reductions in Social Security benefits, said Thursday that it hopes President-elect Donald Trump stands up to Republicans in Congress.
“Speaker Paul Ryan has spent decades working to cut, privatize, and dismantle these vital programs,” Nancy Altman, one of the co-founders of the group, said in a press release, adding that she fully expected Ryan to redouble his efforts.
“During the presidential campaign, Trump promised that he would not cut Social Security or Medicare,” Altman said. “We hope that the President-elect’s pledge is one he will honor. In standing up to Ryan and other powerful Republicans, he would be standing up for the American people.”
Back during the George W. Bush years, then-Rep. Ryan (R-Wis.) supported efforts to partially privatize Social Security, which provides retirement benefits to 44 million Americans. Republicans eventually abandoned that effort and have since supported things like raising the retirement age or reducing benefit growth. Ryan’s most recent budget blueprints haven’t proposed cutting Social Security benefits, and he has said a special committee should handle the issue.
Breaking with many in his party, Trump specifically campaigned against cutting benefits, saying he would fix the popular program’s future funding gap simply by improving the economy rather than tinkering with benefit levels or taxes.
“It is my intention to leave Social Security as it is,” Trump said at a GOP debate in March.
As with many issues, Trump’s campaign position on Social Security was totally different than the one he took in the past. In a 2000 book, he called it a Ponzi scheme that should be privatized.
Max Richtman, president of a group called the National Committee to Preserve Social Security & Medicare, said the group has a letter written to the president-elect calling on him to keep his campaign promise.
“He was the only candidate in the Republican primaries that made that kind of a promise,” Richtman said. “We are asking him to live up to his commitment and to make sure the other branches of government support what he’s shown leadership on, which is protecting these programs.”
Altman’s statement reflects a weird new political dynamic Trump has introduced. One of Social Security advocates’ greatest allies in Congress has long been Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), whose populist bid for president in some ways reflected Trump’s.
“Donald Trump tapped into the anger of a declining middle class that is sick and tired of establishment economics, establishment politics and the establishment media,” Sanders said Wednesday in a statement responding to Trump’s victory. “To the degree that Mr. Trump is serious about pursuing policies that improve the lives of working families in this country, I and other progressives are prepared to work with him.”