Trump floats 'cutting' retirement spending, drawing quick pushback from Biden

Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump opened the door Monday to “cutting” spending under Social Security and Medicare, drawing swift pushback from President Joe Biden and elevating a key policy battle in the 2024 election.

Phoning into CNBC’s “Squawk Box,” Trump was pressed on how he plans to resolve the long-term solvency problems of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

“So first of all, there is a lot you can do in terms of entitlements, in terms of cutting,” Trump responded. “And in terms of, also, the theft and the bad management of entitlements — tremendous bad management of entitlements — there’s tremendous amounts of things and numbers of things you can do.”

The former president didn’t get specific about how he’d change the retirement programs. A Trump campaign spokesman said he was referring only to “cutting waste and fraud,” but did not provide additional policy details on how he’d go about that or how much can be saved.

Biden’s campaign tweeted out the video and the president responded quickly: “Not on my watch.”

“If anyone tries to cut Social Security or Medicare, or raise the retirement age again, I will stop them,” Biden said during a speech Monday in New Hampshire. “This morning, Donald Trump said cuts to Social Security and Medicare are on the table again.”

Social Security is projected to be solvent through 2034. Medicare is solvent through 2028. After that, benefits under the programs will face automatic cuts unless policy changes are made to add revenue or reduce spending.

“As the President just warned in his State of the Union address, Republican officials plan to cut Medicare and Social Security,” White House spokesman Andrew Bates said, adding that “today, in his budget, President Biden honors his ironclad commitment by firmly opposing benefit cuts to Medicare and Social Security.”

Trump campaign spokeswoman Karoline Leavitt said in a statement: “President Trump delivered on his promise to protect Social Security and Medicare in his first term, and President Trump will continue to strongly protect Social Security and Medicare in his second term. The only candidate who poses a threat to Social Security and Medicare is Joe Biden — whose mass invasion of countless millions of illegal aliens will, if they are allowed to stay, cause Social Security and Medicare to buckle and collapse.”

Opposition to retirement benefit cuts unifies Democrats, with progressives pushing to expand Social Security benefits as well as adding dental, vision and hearing benefits to Medicare.

Biden’s annual budget proposal, released Monday, calls for shoring up Medicare by raising taxes on incomes above $400,000, raising a 3.8% surtax on net investment income to 5% above that income threshold and directing the revenues into the hospital insurance trust fund. It also calls for putting Medicare drug savings into the trust fund to extend its duration.

The budget further calls for “protecting and strengthening” Social Security by “asking the highest-income Americans to pay their fair share,” a White House fact sheet said.

Trump has not offered a policy plan for Social Security or Medicare.

Republicans are more divided on how to address the programs, with many House GOP lawmakers supporting a budget that calls for lowering spending by raising the Social Security eligibility age and calling for partial privatization of Medicare. But Trump has sought to position himself in opposition to conservative orthodoxy on retirement spending, without getting specific on what he’d do.

On CNBC, the former president spoke broadly.

“I know that they’re going to end up weakening Social Security because the country is weak. I mean, take a look at outside of the stock market … we’re going through hell. People are going through hell,” Trump said, adding that the middle class has “been treated very, very badly with policy.”

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