WASHINGTON ― President Donald Trump made it clear during his successful run for office that he didn’t favor meddling with popular retirement programs, despite Republican calls to do just that.
But the Republican congressman whom Trump appointed to run his budget office thinks the president will come around.
Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget, told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt on Monday that he’s been trying “to socialize the discussion” around the White House about how Social Security and Medicare are the federal government’s biggest fiscal problems.
“I think people are starting to grab it,” Mulvaney said. “There are ways that we can not only allow the president to keep his promise but to help him keep his promise by fixing some of these mandatory programs.”
Social Security and Medicare are called mandatory programs because they automatically pay out benefits to tens of millions of older Americans without Congress having to tinker with their spending levels every year. But in the coming decade, lawmakers will have to do something, as Medicare’s hospital insurance trust fund will be depleted in the late 2020s and Social Security’s retirement insurance fund will run dry in the early 2030s.
Republicans tend to favor improving the programs’ long-term solvency by cutting future benefits; Democrats prefer higher payroll taxes. During the campaign, Trump repudiated Republican orthodoxy, saying he would rather let a booming Trump economy make the problems go away.
“It’s my absolute intention to leave Social Security the way it is,” Trump said at a March 2016 debate.
Several Republicans in Congress previously told The Huffington Post they hoped Mulvaney would bring Trump around. “Mick is a strong fiscal conservative, and I hope he’ll have some influence on the administration,” Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) said last week.
A White House spokesperson said in a statement Monday that Social Security and Medicare are not in good financial shape.
“We will eventually have to address both in order to protect benefits,” the spokesperson said in an email. “The director was not making any definitive statements about the specific policies we will use to achieve that goal.”
Mulvaney, asked specifically by Hewitt if Trump would favor raising the retirement age, said the president probably wouldn’t anytime soon.
The national narrative is we’re not going to do anything on mandatory spending Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget
“I know the national narrative, and the national narrative is we’re not going to do anything on mandatory spending,” Mulvaney said. “But I think really what this president is interested in doing is not affecting the benefits for folks and saving these programs long term. And I think there’s a way to do that.”
Democrats and Republicans both favor “saving” and “protecting” Social Security and Medicare; Mulvaney thinks Social Security is a “Ponzi scheme” and, like other Republicans, wants to save the programs by decreasing benefits.
“Mulvaney and other Republican elites, who hate Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, are now claiming that Trump was simply promising to ‘save’ these programs,” said Nancy Altman, co-director of Social Security Works, a group opposed to benefit cuts.
“Like the infamous comment about destroying the Vietnam village to save it, they argue that cutting or even dismantling these programs ‘saves’ them,” Altman said in a statement. “In this twisted logic, Trump can cut these vital benefits, and not break his campaign promise not to cut them!”
This story has been updated to include a comment from a White House spokesperson.