The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Trump warns GOP about efforts to cut Social Security, Medicare

President Donald Trump on Oct. 10, 2018 in Washington, D.C. (Win McNamee/Photographer: Win McNamee/Getty)
4 min

Former president Donald Trump issued a warning to his party Friday to avoid cuts to Medicare and Social Security, putting him at odds with prominent House Republicans who are pushing for major reductions in the entitlement programs and array of others in exchange for raising the nation’s debt limit.

“Under no circumstances should Republicans vote to cut a single penny from Medicare or Social Security,” Trump said in a video message distributed by his 2024 presidential campaign, which runs more than two minutes.

“While we absolutely need to stop Biden’s out-of-control spending, the pain should be borne by Washington bureaucrats, not by hard-working American families and American seniors,” Trump said. “Cut waste, fraud and abuse everywhere that we can find it and there is plenty there’s plenty of it. But do not cut the benefits our seniors worked for and paid for their entire lives. Save Social Security, don’t destroy it.”

Trump also suggested cuts to foreign aid, “left wing gender programs from our military,” and “billions being spent on climate extremism.”

Trump’s message comes as newly emboldened House Republicans are trying to leverage the standoff over the debt limit to extract major spending cuts, insisting that previous Congresses and administrations have spent too much on social programs. Some GOP lawmakers have raised the prospect of seeking changes to popular entitlement programs, including Social Security and Medicare.

Contrary to Trump’s claims, the national deficit grew substantially during his tenure, in part due to tax cuts passed in 2017 at his urging by the Republican-led Congress. In fact, the national debt rose by nearly $7.8 trillion while Trump was in office.

Republicans, including House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), voted to raise the debt ceiling three times during Trump’s tenure without insisting on spending cuts in return. The GOP demand for cuts — and threats of a debt default — have occurred when a Democrat is in the White House, such as Barack Obama in 2011 and President Biden now.

On Thursday, the administration began “extraordinary measures” to prevent the federal government from breaching its debt limit. Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen told lawmakers that officials will alter certain federal investments to preserve the nation’s credit until summer — largely through technical moves that will buy lawmakers time to pass legislation raising the limit.

House Republicans prepare emergency plan for breaching debt limit

The White House has repeatedly warned against Congress turning the debt ceiling negotiations into “a hostage situation” and also hammered Republicans for suggesting changes to Medicare and Social Security.

“This is something that needs to be dealt with. We’re talking about jobs, we’re talking about seniors, we’re talking about veterans. We’re talking about real-life potential issues that could affect Americans across the country,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Friday. “MAGA Republicans in the House want to cut Social Security or they want to cut Medicare. … That should not be where we are right now. We should not be moving forward in conversations about the debt ceiling in that way.”

Last year’s midterm elections underscored the political peril of advocating, or even the appearance of advocating, cuts to popular entitlement programs.

Democrats, including Biden, seized on a plan issued by Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) that called for requiring all legislation to be renewed every five years — or wiped off the books. Democrats stressed that Social Security and Medicare were created by legislation.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and other leading Republicans rapidly distanced themselves from Scott’s plan.

At event after event, Biden accused Republicans of wanting to put the two programs “on the chopping block,” pointing to Scott’s plan, even though it made no explicit call to cut Medicare or Social Security.

During the 2016 campaign, Trump was critical of then-Rep. Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.), the 2012 GOP vice-presidential nominee, for pushing for changes to Medicare and Social Security.

In fact, Trump seemed to blame Mitt Romney’s loss in the 2012 presidential election on his running mate. Trump said that Romney was hurt by Ryan’s previous calls to change Social Security and other entitlement programs for the elderly.

“That was the end of that campaign, by the way, when they chose Ryan,” Trump said in February 2016. “And I like him. He’s a nice person, but that was the end of the campaign.”

Shortly after Republican nominee Romney picked Ryan as his running mate, the progressive policy group Agenda Project Action Fund ran an ad attacking Ryan’s stance on Medicare that showed an elderly woman in a wheelchair being thrown off a cliff by a man in a dark suit. The message on the screen: “Mitt Romney made his choice. … Now you have to make yours.”

Jacob Bogage, Jenna Johnson and Amy B Wang contributed to this report.