As Trump Advisers Push Entitlement Cuts, NY Times Compares Trump To Sanders

A New York Times article claimed that presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump’s pledge “to protect Social Security and Medicare” and to “leave entitlements untouched” indicates he’s taken a page from Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders’ campaign playbook. But The Times failed to note that Trump previously called Social Security a “Ponzi scheme” and that at least two of his advisers have advocated cutting or privatizing Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and disability benefits -- and have indicated as recently as this month that Trump would also be open to changing those programs.

NY Times: “Trump Borrows From Bernie Sanders’s Playbook … Pledging To Leave Entitlements Untouched”

NY Times: Trump Is “Taking A Page From The Sanders Playbook … Pledging To Leave Entitlements Untouched” And “Vowing To Protect Social Security And Medicare.” A New York Times article claimed that presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump is “taking a page from the [Bernie] Sanders playbook” as he turns his campaign toward the general election, citing Trump’s “pledg[e] to leave entitlements untouched” and vow “to protect Social Security and Medicare” as evidence. From the May 17 Times article:

On a range of issues, Mr. Trump seems to be taking a page from the Sanders playbook, expressing a willingness to increase the minimum wage, suggesting that the wealthy may pay higher taxes than under his original proposal, attacking Mrs. Clinton from the left on national security and Wall Street, and making clear that his opposition to free trade will be a centerpiece of his general election campaign.

As Mr. Trump lays the groundwork for his likely showdown with Mrs. Clinton, he is staking out a series of populist positions that could help him woo working-class Democrats in November. But in doing so, he is exacerbating the trepidation some Republicans already feel about his candidacy at a moment when the party typically rallies to its nominee.


But Mr. Trump, who has also made attacks on illegal immigrants central to his campaign while vowing to protect Social Security and Medicare, is plainly going to run as more of a Sanders-style populist than as a conservative.


Two of the three pillars underpinning Mr. Trump’s campaign reflect his overarching “America First” populist ethos: a broad opposition to free trade, where he says the nation is getting a bad deal, and a foreign policy that is muscular in tone but argues against nation-building and excessive foreign intervention. The third major plank of his candidacy, vocal opposition to an immigration overhaul and a promise to build a wall at the nation’s southern border, also puts him at odds with most establishment-aligned Republicans.

Similarly, by pledging to leave entitlements untouched as baby boomers near retirement — one of several major issues on which he differs with leading Republicans like Speaker Paul D. Ryan, who recently said he was not yet ready to support Mr. Trump — he is repositioning the party away from the market-oriented politics it has been identified with for decades. [The New York Times, 5/17/16]

Trump’s Advisers Have Pushed For Entitlement Changes As Recently As This Month

WSJ: Chief Trump Policy Adviser Sam Clovis Indicated Trump “Would Be Open To Reductions In Medicare And Social Security.” Chief Trump policy adviser Sam Clovis said on May 11 that Trump, if elected president, “'will start to take a look at all of the programs, including entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare.’" According to The Wall Street Journal, Clovis suggested the “Trump administration would be open to reductions in Medicare and Social Security spending if the campaign’s tax cuts don’t achieve extraordinary budget surpluses.” From the May 11 Wall Street Journal article:

Donald Trump’s presidential campaign waffled again on the details of its economic policy, with a top adviser suggesting a Trump administration would be open to reductions in Medicare and Social Security spending if the campaign’s tax cuts don’t achieve extraordinary budget surpluses.


“After the administration has been in place, then we will start to take a look at all of the programs, including entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare,” said chief Trump policy adviser Sam Clovis, during an event in Washington. “We’ll start taking a hard look at those to start seeing what we can do in a bipartisan way.”


Hope Hicks, a campaign spokeswoman, said in an e-mail that Mr. Clovis’s comments were consistent with Mr. Trump’s past statements.

“Sam Clovis did not remotely suggest anything having to do with cuts,” Ms. Hicks said. “I read his statements as though we need to examine budgetary discipline to protect programs like Social Security and Medicare, which is exactly what Mr. Trump intends to do.”


Mr. Clovis didn’t detail policies that would close that apparent gap of $25 trillion or more and suggested entitlement-program changes could occur if growth doesn’t materialize.

“Right now, we’re not going to touch anything because we can’t predict the growth,” Mr. Clovis said. “We have to start taking a look not just at Medicare and Social Security but every program we have out there, because the budgetary discipline that we’ve shown over the last 84 years has been horrible.” [The Wall Street Journal, 5/11/16]

Clovis Has Supported Privatizing Medicare And Social Security And Block-Granting Medicaid. Los Angeles Times columnist Michael Hiltzik noted that when Clovis ran for U.S. Senate in 2014, he said he “was ‘a strong believer in bringing private models to both Medicare and Social Security’” and “favored block-granting Medicaid." From the May 16 LA Times column:

In 2014, while running in Iowa for the U.S. Senate, Clovis told the Des Moines Register that he was “a strong believer in bringing private models to both Medicare and Social Security.” For those “below the age of 45 .... we need new systems for both.”

He also favored block-granting Medicaid -- an “easy step,” he said, that would allow “states to administer the program based on state needs.” Medicaid experts have observed, however, that some states have taken advantage of flexibility in Medicaid eligibility to cut off all but the most destitute families. Alabama and Texas, for example, limit Medicaid to families earning less than 18% of the federal poverty level, or $3,629 a year for a family of three. [Los Angeles Times, 5/16/16]

Trump’s Policy Director Also Pushed For Block-Granting Medicaid And Criticized Supplemental Security Income Program. The Intercept’s Zaid Jilani noted that Trump’s policy director, John Mashburn, has pushed for block-granting Medicaid, which would cut funding to the program. Mashburn also criticized the Supplemental Security Income program, which provides stipends to disabled low-income people, claiming many “are not really physically disabled.” From the May 16 Intercept article:

Trump’s newly hired policy director, John Mashburn, also advocates block-granting Medicaid to rein in overly generous benefits. “You set a finite amount, states have total flexibility with what they do. … if they become too prolific in the benefits they provide, the state voters hold their governor and their legislature accountable for being too free with the taxpayers’ money,” he said during a 2012 interview with the Heartland Institute’s Ben Domenech.


In the same interview, Mashburn also assailed the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program, complaining that “650,000 — 53 percent of the children on the program — are not really physically disabled, or what most people think are disabled. They are learning disabled in school and stuff, and basically what it is, is becoming a substitute welfare program.” [The Intercept, 5/16/16]

Trump Has Previously Called Social Security A “Ponzi Scheme” And Said It Should Be Privatized

Trump Previously Called Social Security A “Ponzi Scheme” That Should Be Privatized. Trump called Social Security a Ponzi scheme in his 2000 book, writing, “Does the name Ponzi all of a sudden come to mind?” He also called for the retirement age to be raised and wrote that “privatization” of the program “would be good.” From a September 29 BuzzFeed article:

But when Trump first flirted with running for president in 2000, he wanted to privatize the program and raise the retirement age, and called the program a Ponzi scheme.

“Fast-forward to 1941,” writes Trump after a long explanation of the first Ponzi scheme to intro his chapter on “Making Social Security Secure Again.”

“This is the second year Social Security benefits have been paid,” he continues, “The first recipients of Social Security, even once inflation was factored in, got the equivalent of a 36.5 percent annual interest rate on their initial contributions into the Social Security Trust Fund. For those retiring in 1956, their inflation-adjusted rate of return was still a respectable 12 percent. Julie Kosterlitz, in the National Journal, compares that figure with this: For those who are working now and looking to retire after 2015, their returns will be below 2 percent. And that’s if they ever get paid at all. Does the name Ponzi all of a sudden come to mind?”

Trump proposed a number of solutions, first an age of seventy for the retirement age.


Next, Trump says privatization is the answer.

“Privatization would be good for all of us. As it stands today, 13.6 percent of women on Social Security live in poverty,” Trump writes. “Harvard University researchers studied almost two thousand American women who retired in 1981 and found that virtually every woman—single, divorced , married , or widowed— would probably be better off financially under a system of fully private investment accounts.” [BuzzFeed, 9/29/15]

Trump Has Previously Flip-Flopped On Replacing Medicare With Health Savings Accounts. Trump told ABC’s This Week in October that he agreed with then-Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson’s plan to replace Medicare with health savings accounts.” The October 27 ABC News article noted that the same week Trump “reversed his views” and “said he is in full support of Medicare”:

Speaking to MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” today, the New York real estate mogul said he is in full support of Medicare.

"Ben [Carson] wants to knock out Medicare. I heard that over the weekend. He wants to abolish Medicare,” Trump said of Carson’s comments that Medicare “probably won’t be necessary” under his health care plan.

Trump added: “Abolishing Medicare, I don't think you'll get away with that one. It's actually a program that's worked. It’s a program that some people love, actually.”

But it was just Sunday morning on ABC News’ "This Week” where Trump said he agreed with Carson’s plan to replace the 50-year-old Medicare system with health savings accounts (HSA).

"I’m OK with the savings accounts. I think it’s a good idea,” Trump said Sunday. “It’s a very down-the-middle idea. It works. It’s something that’s proven.”

On the question Sunday about whether he agreed with Carson’s idea that “Medicare probably won’t be necessary,” Trump said, ”It’s possible. You’re going to have to look at that. But I’ll tell you what; the health savings accounts, I’ve been talking about it also. I think it’s a very good idea … it’s an idea whose probably time has come.” [ABC News, 10/27/15]