CORRECTION: A previous version of this article misrepresented the quote attributed to Donald Trump as saying that the candidate suggested support for cuts to Social Security. The article below has been updated. We regret the error.
Donald Trump reportedly took House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) to task for pushing Social Security cuts, arguing during their private meeting earlier this month that the policy is both wrong and politically unwise, according to Bloomberg BusinessWeek.
The presumptive Republican presidential nominee made the comments during a May 12 meeting with Ryan aimed at mending ties between the two top Republican leaders, Bloomberg reported, citing an unnamed source who was in the room. (Ryan has yet to endorse Trump.)
“From a moral standpoint, I believe in it,” Trump said of maintaining Social Security benefits. “But you also have to get elected. And there’s no way a Republican is going to beat a Democrat when the Republican is saying, ‘We’re going to cut your Social Security’ and the Democrat is saying, ‘We’re going to keep it and give you more.’ ”
Trump’s professed opposition to cutting Social Security and Medicare has been both a hallmark of his campaign and one of his greatest departures from traditional conservative ideology. And Ryan, who repeatedly criticized Trump before the mogul effectively secured the GOP nomination, has made proposing dramatic reductions in the popular social insurance programs a defining feature of his congressional career.
“He openly says he will lie to the people about it because he knows that the people are against it.”
The report of Trump's remarks to Ryan suggest that the candidate's public opposition to cuts is not mere posturing, but stems from genuine policy beliefs and political calculations.
It remains to be seen how congressional Republicans, who largely support plans to scale back benefits, will reconcile their views with Trump's.
Many conservative House Republicans told The Huffington Post shortly after the May 12 meeting that that they were unconcerned about Trump’s public posture on the programs. Several members interpreted him as wanting to extend the solvency of Social Security and Medicare solvency through some combination of the benefit cuts and other reforms that conservatives favor.
House conservatives can be forgiven for thinking that Trump's staunch opposition to benefit cuts was flexible.
Trump policy advisor Sam Clovis had already appeared to reverse course on May 11, indicating that Trump would be willing to consider cuts as president.
And in a 2011 interview with Fox News host Sean Hannity, Trump seemed to suggest that his opposition was based more on political considerations than so-called moral views.
“Things have to be done, but it has to be done with both parties together,” Trump said at the time. “You can’t have the Republicans get too far ahead of this issue.”
Trump also compared Social Security to a Ponzi scheme in his 2000 book The America We Deserve, arguing that the program should be privatized and the retirement age raised.
“It is really clear: Donald Trump would 100 percent go along with the Republican donor class position of cutting Social Security,” said Alex Lawson, executive director of Social Security Works, a group that promotes benefits expansion. “He openly says he will lie to the people about it because he knows that the people are against it.”
Social Security, the United States’ public retirement, disability and life insurance program, faces a funding gap beginning in 2034. Without congressional action to either raise the program’s revenues or scale back benefits there will be an across-the-board benefit cut of approximately 20 percent.
The Democratic party has adopted steadily more progressive positions on Social Security in recent years, arguing not only that the shortfall should be closed entirely through revenue increases -- such as lifting the cap on earnings subject to Social Security taxes -- but also that benefits should be expanded to address a growing retirement income deficit.
Both Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton and her rival Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) support increasing benefits and have pledged that they will not cut the program.