There’s a social media parlor game that’s emerged over the past several months. When President Trump makes an unorthodox statement or announces a policy initiative, the race is on to find a tweet in which he expressed the opposite opinion or plan. They are often easy to come by.
On Sunday night, though, there was a particularly remarkable example. Our time-machine Twitter tool Trumphop started pumping out Trump’s tweets from May 21, 2015, when not-yet-a-candidate Trump was addressing the Sarasota, Fla., Republican Party. Among the quotes from his speech that he retweeted was this one:
"I am going to save Social Security without any cuts. I know where to get the money from. Nobody else does." – my @SRQRepublicans speech
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 22, 2015
On May 21 two years later, The Washington Post reported on now-President Trump’s proposed federal budget, which will likely include cuts to Social Security Disability Insurance — which seems to suggest that perhaps Trump forgot where the savings would come from.
Among the ways in which Trump’s candidacy was unorthodox for a Republican was his insistence on the campaign trail, repeatedly, that he would not cut Medicare, Medicaid or Social Security.
It began with his campaign announcement.
“Save Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security without cuts. Have to do it,” he said then. “Get rid of the fraud. Get rid of the waste and abuse, but save it. People have been paying it for years. And now many of these candidates want to cut it. You save it by making the United States, by making us rich again, by taking back all of the money that’s being lost.”
That was his argument from the outset: No need to cut anything, because Trump’s economic strategies would pay for it all. The argument didn’t end there. Here’s a 2½-minute compilation:
That was then.
Since he has been president, Trump has embraced cuts to all three of those programs that he pledged from the outset to defend.
Social Security: The budget reported on Sunday would focus on changing how Social Security Disability Insurance (and, if other leaked documents are accurate, Social Security’s Supplemental Security Income) is distributed. The scale of those changes is not yet clear, but the net result would almost certainly be cuts to the payments that some Americans receive. Axios reports that the disability insurance program is one of three programs (along with food stamps and children’s health care) where the administration hopes to slash $1.7 trillion in funding.
Medicaid: The president’s embrace of the American Health Care Act was always a bit odd, given the sweeping assurances Trump offered during the campaign of better, cheaper health care that assured broad coverage. But the bill’s deep cuts to Medicaid — $800 billion — was one of the most surprising parts of the bill, given that it so sharply contradicted his campaign pledge. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that this reduction would eliminate coverage for 14 million people by 2026.
What’s more, the cut is included in Trump’s budget proposal, suggesting that he opposes nascent efforts by Senate Republicans to reduce the effects on Medicaid.
Medicare: The effects on Medicare are less direct. By repealing a tax on high-income Americans that funds the Medicare Part A trust fund, that fund, scheduled to be depleted by 2028 under the Affordable Care Act, would instead run out of money by 2025. Before the ACA passed, the trust fund was scheduled to be depleted this year.
“In addition to the impact on Medicare’s solvency in the short term, repealing the high-income earner payroll surtax would also worsen the program’s long-run financial status,” the Kaiser Family Foundation wrote in March. Over the medium term, the fund is still at risk, necessitating either additional revenue or additional cuts.
Why the shift from Trump on these issues? The recurring theme of his presidency so far has been that the rebel he presented on the campaign trail quickly transformed into a doctrinaire Republican after inauguration. This is almost certainly a function of Trump’s indifference to the details of policy. Congressional Republicans had a plan for health care reform; Trump didn’t. Given the choice between figuring out a policy solution that could achieve what he promised — perhaps an impossibility — and championing what was put in front of him, Trump chose the latter.
Update: John Czwartacki of the Office of Management and Budget offered a response on Twitter: “Claiming disability is same as Soc Sec is like claiming that new POTUS Plan for paid parental leave, run thru state UI, is unemployment.”