Social Security has quickly become a huge talking point for the 2024 campaign.
It comes up again and again, mostly from the mouth of Donald Trump. The former president was in Iowa earlier this week, where he expanded on the subject at a campaign rally nominally about education. As in his video messages and other mentions of campaign trails, Trump pledged to keep the program and criticized other Republicans like Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) for considering budget cuts.
And he’s not the only one. His rivals are pushing the outline of their own plans, presenting a clear choice to voters, while outside groups are organizing to push the issue to the top of the agenda once voting begins next year.
And experts note that this is far from a theoretical debate. A potential insolvency in 10 years could lead to cuts in benefits if Washington doesn’t act, and that conversation may have to take place during the next presidential administration.
“There is a lot of hard work you have to do and so you can’t do that two months before the exhaustion day; you have to start years in advance,” Mark Warshawsky, a former deputy commissioner in the Social Security Administration who is now with the American Enterprise Institute, said in an interview this week.
He added that a myriad of fiscal issues — from possible Medicare and Social Security insolvencies to the overall deficit — will force Washington to come together in a “greater deal” sooner rather than later and “that could well happen in the next government, regardless of whether it is a Republican or a Democrat.”
A recent report from the government administrators found that Social Security alone has the resources to continue paying 100% of benefits until 2034. After that, benefits can be reduced by more than 20%.
“10 years will come pretty soon and if we don’t come up with a solution, then it’s going to be very dire,” added finStream.tv co-founder Robert Powell during a live Yahoo Finance performance this week.
‘He wanted to decimate it’
According to the Population Reference Bureau, all three states have a higher proportion of people age 65 or older than the country as a whole. And then ever-important Florida and its legions of retirees will probably go to vote just a few weeks later.
The Iowa AARP has already launched a series of Social Security events in that state promising more action to focus candidates on the issue between now and next year’s primary. In 2020, the group hosted influential candidate forums on pension issues.
And former President Trump has made Social Security a standard part of his stupid speech this week, saying that DeSantis “voted against Social Security, that’s a bad one,” on Monday during an extended riff in Davenport. “He wanted to decimate it.”
Trump was referring to votes DeSantis cast during his time in Congress on nonbinding budget resolutions that pushed for raising the retirement age and slowing Social Security growth. Other comments by DeSantis at the time included statements of support for the privatization of Social Security.
Trump has made the issue central to his campaign, pledging again this week, “I will not cut Medicare and I will not cut Social Security.”
DeSantis has moved away from his previous stance on the issue, recently telling Fox News “we’re not going to mess with Social Security like Republicans,” but has yet to comment in detail on his plans and skipped the issue entirely during his own recent campaign – style stop in Iowa.
‘You focus on the new generation’
But a little under the radar, a substantive discussion takes place on the program among other candidates and potential candidates.
Nikki Haley recently revealed her thoughts on the issue, telling Iowa voters she would change the retirement age for young Americans and also limit Social Security and Medicare benefits for wealthier Americans.
“You’re focusing on the new generation, you’re focusing on the future,” she said at the town hall event, adding that Democratic proposals to support the program by raising taxes are “the lazy way out.”
Another possible candidate, former Vice President Mike Pence, also recently weighed in on the issue. He told an audience — in a video obtained exclusively by Yahoo News — that he wants to reform the program and that it should be on the table to “give younger Americans the ability to take a portion of their Social Security contributions and put it to use “. a personal savings account.”
Warshawsky says he is pleasantly surprised by the seriousness of some of the ideas, saying the difficult overall fiscal situation has “changed the conversation [but] so many changes are needed to make the program work in a modern economy.
The emerging debate also comes as welcome news to Democratic politicians like President Joe Biden, who see a political advantage when the issue comes up, and have been urging Republicans for months. While the president offered little on Social Security in his recent budget proposal, focusing instead on Medicare, he has accused Republicans of pushing politically unpopular cuts in locations from his State of the Union address to date.
In an unusual twist, Biden and Trump are aligned here. For now, they’re raising the issue as a potential weapon against Republicans — and to reassure voters that the system would be safest in their hands alone.
Ben Werschkul is a Washington correspondent for Yahoo Finance.
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