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- Donald Trump told the GOP to leave Medicare and Social Security cuts out of debt ceiling negotiations.
- The US hit the debt limit on Thursday, and the GOP is negotiating how to raise it before a default later this year.
- Some Republican lawmakers have discussed cutting entitlement programs in exchange for raising the limit.
The US just hit the debt limit — and now Republicans are gearing up for negotiations with President Joe Biden and Senate Democrats over whether or not to prevent the country from defaulting on its spending obligations.
But former President Donald Trump is warning the GOP to keep social spending programs out of it.
On Friday, Politico first reported that Trump told Republican lawmakers in a video message that as they negotiate terms to raise the debt ceiling, they should not include cuts to benefits like Social Security and Medicare.
Raising the debt limit means increasing the legal amount of money the federal government is able to borrow to keep paying for programs already mandated by Congress, essentially allowing the US to stay on top of paying its bills. While Republicans raised the limit three times under Trump, they are now using it as a bargaining chip to achieve spending cuts on Biden’s priorities — but Trump does not want entitlement programs to be a part of those negotiations.
“Under no circumstances should Republicans vote to cut a single penny from Medicare or Social Security,” Trump said in the video.
“Cut waste, fraud and abuse everywhere that we can find it and there is plenty, there’s plenty of it,” he continued. “But do not cut the benefits our seniors worked for and paid for their entire lives. Save Social Security, don’t destroy it.”
Trump had moved the GOP away from hacking at Medicare and Social Security during his presidency, something that former GOP House speaker Paul Ryan bemoaned.
“He and I fought about Medicare and entitlement reform all the time,” Ryan said of Trump in April. “It became clear to me there was no way he wanted to embrace that.”
However, in the lead-up to Trump’s 2020 run, the former president embraced abandoning a payroll tax that helps fund Social Security. If Trump had been reelected — and gone through with permanently eliminating that tax — Social Security would have been solvent by 2023.
Trump’s view is in direct opposition to what some Republican lawmakers have already voiced. GOP Rep. Michael Waltz, for example, told Fox News last week that “if we really want to talk about the debt and spending, it’s the entitlements program.” White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain criticized those comments on Twitter, saying “it could not be clearer” that the GOP is trying to cut Medicare and Social Security.
—Ronald Klain (@WHCOS) January 9, 2023
Republicans and Democrats have sparred over Medicare and Social Security for years, with Republicans routinely looking to cut benefits for both programs. The GOP has been vague in publicly disclosing what kind of spending they want to cut, but the Republican Study Committee’s 2023 budget proposal made it clear that the party is eyeing slashes to entitlement programs. For example, Republicans proposed converting Medicaid and Affordable Care Act subsidies to block grants, which would cut spending by $3.6 trillion over 10 years.
It’s not a new partisan fight, and advocates for seniors often point to the fact that Congress has never failed to lift the debt limit and pay Social Security benefits on time. But this year’s historically fraught House Speaker election — in which Rep. Kevin McCarthy made concessions to the far-right wing of the House in order to secure his seat — signals that this year’s deliberations may be uncommonly tight.
Republicans are upping the ante on entitlement spending pressure, but Trump’s warning comes as these programs remain almost universally popular. In a 2020 AARP poll of 1,441 adults across the political spectrum, 96% of respondents said that Social Security was either the most important government program or an important one compared with other government programs.
Regardless of how the negotiations play out, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warned Republicans that it’s vital they reach a deal. The US officially hit the debt limit on Thursday, at which point “extraordinary measures” to keep the government on top of its bills went into place, but those measures are expected to run out at some point this summer.
If that happens and Congress does not raise the debt ceiling before then, it could be catastrophic. As Insider previously reported, sending the US into default would be unprecedented and could lead to a global financial crisis and a sudden deep recession.
Democrats, and Biden, continue to maintain that raising the debt limit has historically been bipartisan, and there’s no reason it should not continue to be.
“Failure to raise the debt limit will not reduce our debt, but it would wreck the economy if it led to a default,” Rep. Don Beyer, a Democrat from Virginia, said in a statement to Insider. “Unfortunately many Republicans seem determined to find out how catastrophic a default would be through experience.”