Trump Talks Nonsense About Rocketing Social Security

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U.S. Secret Service agents surround Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump during a disturbance as he speaks at Dayton International Airport in Dayton, Ohio, on March 12. Trump has said, “It’s my absolute intention to leave Social Security the way it is." Finding savings only from “waste, fraud and abuse,” as Trump suggests, abuses our intelligence, the author writes. Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters

This article first appeared on the Cato Institute site.

In the Republican debate on March 10, CNN's Dana Bash pressed the candidates on how they would deal with Social Security.

Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz gave solid answers, explaining that the system was headed toward insolvency, suggesting ways to slow spending growth and scolding candidates who denied the need for cost-saving reforms.

One of the candidates in denial is Donald Trump. He said, "And it's my absolute intention to leave Social Security the way it is. Not increase the age and to leave it as is."

Trump is a smart man who presumably understands accounting, so either he hasn't bothered to examine the finances of the government's largest program or he is willfully providing a false narrative about it.

The chart below compares Social Security and defense spending in real 2016 dollars, including Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projections going forward.

For decades, the two programs have vied for the title of the government's largest, but the battle is now over. Social Security spending has soared far above defense spending, and it will keep on soaring without reforms.

Defense is a "normal" program, with spending fluctuating up and down over the years in real, or inflation-adjusted, dollars. But Social Security has taken off like a rocket, and it is consuming more taxpayer resources every year. The government spent the same amount on defense and Social Security in 2008, but it will be spending twice as much on the latter program by 2023.

When the next president enters office in 2017, he will start planning his 2018 budget. In that year, Social Security will become the first trillion-dollar program, and it will be gobbling up an additional $60 billion or so every single year.

Where will all the money come from? Pointing only to "waste, fraud and abuse," as Trump does, wastes our time, abuses our intelligence and is a fraudulent story line to peddle.

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Cato Institute

Chris Edwards is the director of tax-policy studies at the Cato Institute and editor of DownsizingGovernment.org.