Democrats are pouncing on President Donald Trump’s new, temporary freeze on payroll taxes as his secret plan to end Social Security and Medicare — traditional priorities for older voters that have not been central themes in this year’s presidential campaign.
They hope Saturday’s executive order, coming less than three months before Election Day, will shore up their messaging that Trump is knee-capping the entitlements for seniors he had vowed to protect.
Trump’s executive order would apply only to the Social Security payroll tax and not to Medicare, and lasts only through the end of the year. After that, employers would have to start paying up again unless Congress makes the deferral permanent as Trump wants — and that’s unlikely. But Democrats immediately framed his directive as a massive danger to both programs, reviving their older talking points against Trump budget proposals that would have cut entitlements.
The message on Medicare springs from Trump’s press conference on Saturday when the president said if he won reelection he planned “to forgive these taxes and make permanent cuts to the payroll tax.”
“One of [Trump’s] biggest broken promises was the assurance that he would defend Social Security and Medicare,” said Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez Monday afternoon on a call with reporters. “We know now that that was another lie.”
Several liberal advocacy and research groups put out similar statements. Protect Our Care, which defends Obamacare and other health care programs, called Trump’s payroll tax policy “part of a much larger war on seniors’ health care.”
The accusation that Trump was using his payroll tax plan — part of his response to the damage the coronavirus pandemic has wrought on the economy — to gut entitlements began right after Trump unveiled the order on Saturday evening from his golf club in Bedminster, N.J.
“We’re disappointed that instead of putting in the work to solve Americans’ problems, the president instead chose to stay on his luxury golf course to announce unworkable, weak and narrow policy announcements to slash the unemployment benefits that millions desperately need and endanger seniors’ Social Security and Medicare,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a joint statement.
White House spokesperson Judd Deere said the payroll deferral “poses no risk to the Social Security Trust Fund and puts more money in the pockets of hardworking Americans.”
The directive’s actual hit to Social Security’s trust fund should be “negligible,” according to Marc Goldwein of the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. “Basically, insolvency could occur a week earlier,” Goldwein said. “And probably less.” But that forecast may get lost in the preelection battles.
Trump’s executive actions followed a breakdown of negotiations with Congress. Along with the payroll tax deferral, the president also said he would boost unemployment insurance, pause student loan repayments, and address evictions. But the efforts are widely viewed as symbolic, and Democrats are also threatening legal action amid questions about White House authority to implement the sweeping policies.