J.D. Vance Ditches Past Support For Social Security Cuts

The Senate candidate's stance against cutting or privatizing the popular program marks a major difference from fellow right-wing candidate Blake Masters.
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Republican Senate candidate J.D. Vance speaks at a rally at the Delaware County Fairgrounds on April 23 in Delaware, Ohio.
Republican Senate candidate J.D. Vance speaks at a rally at the Delaware County Fairgrounds on April 23 in Delaware, Ohio.
AP Photo/Joe Maiorana, File

Ohio GOP Senate candidate J.D. Vance has in the past advocated for major reforms to Social Security and Medicare in order to restore “fiscal sanity” to the United States.

But Vance, the ”Hillbilly Elegy” author who won the GOP nomination in May, no longer supports cutting either program, he told HuffPost this week.

“I don’t support cuts to social security or Medicare and think privatizing social security is a bad idea,” Vance told HuffPost via email, in response to questions about his past advocacy for cutting both programs.

In a 2010 blog post, Vance — then writing under the name J.D. Hamel — argued that Social Security and Medicare were among the biggest drivers of large federal budget deficits, but that neither Democrats nor Republicans had the political will to enact deep cuts to either federal entitlement program.

“The political obstacles intimidate more than the practical problems,” Vance wrote in the post on a personal blog site he used while in law school at Yale. “The party of, umm, limited government — the Republican Party — is also the party of the aging white person. The party’s only solid constituency thus depends on the Medicare and Social Security Benefits that are the biggest roadblocks to any kind of real fiscal sanity. The Democrats are similarly hopeless.”

The post offers a relatively standard conservative view of the budgetary situation at the time: A decade ago, large budget deficits and a mounting federal debt — both of which had been exacerbated by the Great Recession — served as Republicans’ favorite weapon against President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats, who had enacted an $800 billion federal stimulus package and the Affordable Care Act.

After Republicans swept to the House majority in 2010’s midterm elections, the federal debt and the need for fiscal austerity became the dominating political issue of the time, and elements of both parties came to see entitlement reforms as a way to rein in federal spending. Then-Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) introduced a now-infamous budget plan that sought to overhaul Medicare and reform Social Security, a proposal Vance praised in 2011, as The American Independent recently reported.

And while Democrats roundly blasted the plan, Obama nevertheless backed modest cuts to Social Security.

Many Democrats, including Obama, have since embraced expansions to both Medicare and Social Security. Former President Donald Trump, meanwhile, vowed to “leave Social Security the way it is” during his 2016 campaign. He made no effort to change retirement benefits as president but did cut Social Security disability benefits.

Vance told HuffPost that he now blames the country’s supposed “budget problems” on the outsourcing of American jobs to China and the country’s declining birth rate, two major themes of an Ohio campaign that has leaned on trade issues and sought to strike a more “populist,” Trumpian tone.

“We have a long term budget problem for two reasons,” he said. “First, we shipped millions of good jobs to China and other countries. Millions of people who had family supporting (and tax paying) jobs then shifted onto welfare rolls. Second, our country doesn’t have enough children, meaning that we have too few young workers supporting the broader economy.”

“We should fix these problems, not break promises we’ve made to our seniors,” Vance said.

Not all Republican candidates agree, though. Blake Masters, a candidate in Arizona’s GOP Senate primary, called for the privatization of Social Security at a June forum, arguing that millennials like him wouldn’t see the benefits anyway.

“We got to cut the knot at some point, though, because I’ll tell you what, I’m not going to receive Social Security,” Masters said. “I’m a millennial.”

“We need fresh and innovative thinking. Maybe we should privatize Social Security,” he said. “Private retirement accounts, get the government out of it.”

Masters, like Vance, has Trump’s endorsement and the backing of tech billionaire Peter Thiel, who has poured millions of dollars into outside groups supporting both candidates.

Jim Lamon, a businessman running against Masters in the Arizona primary, also calls for raising the retirement age and adding private savings accounts to Social Security on his campaign website, as The American Independent reported in May.

For the most part, Republicans in Congress have quieted down about “entitlement reform,” since it alienates older voters and the trustees of Social Security and Medicare say the programs will remain solvent for years. The last major push for privatization came in 2005, when then-President George W. Bush toured the country pitching the idea. The more Bush talked about it, the less popular it became.

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