Where Trump And Biden Stand On Social Security And Medicare

As Americans tune into the presidential debate on Thursday, critical issues like Social Security and Medicare are likely to come up. These programs act as lifelines for millions of Americans, especially seniors who have historically been a strong voting block.

Understanding where each candidate stands on these issues is essential for voters. This article dives deep into the positions of Joe Biden and Donald Trump when it comes to Social Security and Medicare, examining the candidates’ proposals and actions during their respective terms in office.

Social Security

Social Security, established in 1935, is a cornerstone of the American social safety net, providing financial support to retirees, disabled individuals and survivors of deceased workers.

However, the program faces significant challenges. The Social Security Trust Fund is projected to be depleted by 2035, which could result in reduced benefits if action isn’t taken.

The looming insolvency is driven by demographic shifts, including an aging population and lower birth rates, which have resulted in fewer workers supporting more retirees.

“Addressing those financial challenges will require the political will in both parties to raise revenues for Social Security,” says Christian Weller, a senior economist and professor of public policy at the University of Massachusetts, Boston.

He adds: “Any reform efforts should start with raising revenues for Social Security’s future since its benefits are already fairly low and offer little room for additional cuts.”

Where Biden stands on Social Security

Biden has consistently pledged not to cut Social Security benefits. During his presidential campaign and his time in office, he emphasized his commitment to protecting and strengthening the program.

Biden has proposed raising taxes on wealthy Americans to ensure the program’s solvency. Specifically, he’s suggested subjecting earnings over $400,000 to Social Security payroll taxes, which are currently capped at $168,600 in 2024. However, Biden’s 2020 campaign promise to raise taxes on the wealthy hasn’t come to fruition.

Biden has also expressed support for increasing benefits for low-income recipients and adjusting the cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) formula to better reflect the expenses that seniors face.

Despite these proposals, Biden has not implemented significant changes to Social Security during his presidency. The political and economic challenges of pushing through such reforms remain.

Where Trump stands on Social Security

Trump has taken a more ambiguous stance on Social Security. During his presidency and recent campaign, he said he would protect Social Security benefits. However, he has not provided detailed plans on how he would ensure the program’s long-term solvency without cutting benefits or raising taxes.

Trump’s approach often hinges on the belief that a stronger economy would naturally bolster Social Security. He argues that economic growth and job creation would boost payroll tax revenues, thereby supporting the program.

Still, experts generally agree that economic growth alone won’t be enough to solve the substantial funding issues facing Social Security.

“Faster economic growth can certainly help Social Security’s finances,” says Weller. “But it can only translate into better Social Security finances if it also goes along with strong wage growth.”

At various points, Trump has made statements suggesting he might be open to cutting Social Security benefits. However, he has walked back many of those comments, emphasizing his commitment to protecting benefits.

He’s also suggested combating fraud and waste within Social Security and Medicare, which he argues could save money without reducing benefits.

Earlier in his career, Trump referred to Social Security as a “Ponzi scheme” and advocated for its privatization. However, he abandoned this stance during his first presidential campaign, along with his earlier support for raising the retirement age to 70. Currently, the retirement age for individuals born in 1960 or later is 67.

“I can’t think of any benefit cut less popular than an increase in the retirement age,” says Weller.


Medicare, the federal health insurance program primarily for people ages 65 and older, faces its own set of challenges.

The program is projected to deplete its Hospital Insurance Trust Fund by 2036, unless action is taken to maintain solvency. Rising health care costs, an aging population and increased enrollment are the major factors contributing to Medicare’s financial strain.

“Medical inflation in the past has been higher than overall inflation, raising the program’s costs,” Weller explains. “Over the past decade, medical inflation has been much lower than expected, which has helped the program’s finances.”

The concern, says Weller, is that medical inflation could rise again and derail Medicare’s solvency.

Where Biden stands on Medicare

Biden has been proactive in addressing Medicare’s shortfall. One of his major legislative achievements, the Inflation Reduction Act, included provisions to lower prescription drug costs for Medicare beneficiaries. It allows Medicare to negotiate drug prices directly with pharmaceutical companies, a move expected to save billions of dollars for both the federal government and beneficiaries.

The Inflation Reduction Act requires drug companies to make payments to Medicare if they increase prices faster than inflation. It also caps out-of-pocket expenses for beneficiaries, providing financial relief for those with high drug costs. Biden has called for directing savings from these measures into Medicare’s Hospital Insurance Trust Fund to extend its solvency.

Biden has also proposed raising the Medicare payroll tax for people earning more than $400,000 from 0.9 percent to 2.1 percent to further support the program.

During his 2020 campaign, he proposed lowering the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 60 in an effort to expand health coverage to more Americans. However, this proposal hasn’t been a priority during his presidency.

Where Trump stands on Medicare

Trump’s stance on Medicare mirrors his approach to Social Security: He promises to protect benefits but provides limited details on how he would achieve this.

During his presidency, Trump did not implement significant reforms to address Medicare’s financial challenges.

His administration did propose various changes aimed at reducing health care costs for Medicare beneficiaries, such as efforts to increase price transparency, reduce prescription drug prices and lower the cost of insulin. But these initiatives had limited impact on Medicare’s long-term funding issues.

Trump has made statements opposing any cuts to Medicare benefits, positioning himself as a defender of the program. He also suggested that waste, fraud and abuse within the system should be addressed to save money.

During his administration, Medicare Fee-For-Service improper payment rates declined modestly as the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid (CMS) led efforts to identify causes of improper payments and implement action plans.

In 2023, Trump criticized Republicans who considered cutting Medicare to offset federal spending, arguing such cuts were unnecessary.

Older Americans are a solid voting bloc in presidential elections, and savvy politicians know those votes can influence the outcome of a race.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, people ages 65 and older made up 25.7 percent of the voting population in the 2020 presidential election. Meanwhile, people ages 18–29 made up just 16.5 percent of the voting population. Younger voters were underrepresented compared to the general population, while older Americans were overrepresented, the report found.

In short, seniors turn out to vote.

Experts say this causes many candidates to concentrate on issues central to older Americans — like Social Security benefits, Medicare and prescription drug costs — during election years. Proposals to alter these programs are widely unpopular with voters.

“People contribute to Social Security all of their careers in expectation of getting benefits in the future,” says Weller.

Weller describes Social Security as “a generational contract,” since the current generation of workers’ Social Security taxes pay for current beneficiaries’ benefits.

“Messing with Social Security’s benefits is rightfully seen as breaking a promise,” Weller explains.

An April poll from the Pew Research Center found that more people in the 65 and older age group said they would vote for Trump (52 percent) than vote for Biden (45 percent) if the election were held today.

How much control does the president have over Social Security?

Social Security’s tax rate and benefits are set by law. So to tweak them, Congress must first change the law, and the president would then need to sign it.

Social Security is treated separately from the rest of the federal budget for accounting purposes since it’s a mandatory program, says Weller. The Social Security Board of Trustees only administers the program — it doesn’t have any legislative power over Social Security.

The president, as with any other issue, can propose changes to Congress and use different avenues to encourage or discourage members from taking up certain proposals.

“While a president does not have legislative power, he has a lot of influence to introduce and push for large-scale changes,” says Weller.

Members of Congress from both sides of the aisle have proposed reforms to Social Security over the last decade, from lowering (or raising) the retirement age to tweaking how the program is funded.

Despite numerous bills introduced in the House and Senate, none of the measures have been signed into law.

“The two sides are too far apart on their proposals and there’s no urgent need to act since Social Security can still pay full benefits for the next decade,” says Weller.

Bottom line

Social Security and Medicare are important safety nets for millions of Americans. Both presidential candidates are likely to at least mention problems facing these programs during the upcoming presidential debate. However, candidate promises don’t always translate to concrete action after Election Day.

While voters should pay attention to both candidates’ positions, they should also remember that Congress — not the president — holds the ultimate power to reform Social Security and Medicare.


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