Presidential candidates largely mum about details on how to ‘save’ Social Security

Both Democrats and Republican presidential candidates say they want to “save” Social Security, but there’s very little agreement or specifics in their campaign platforms about how lawmakers should avoid a reduction in benefits, or even when negotiations should begin. Getty Images

WASHINGTON — The winner of this year’s presidential election could very well be holding the reins when it comes time to address Social Security’s complicated financial situation.

The program, which millions of retirees depend on for income stability, will see benefits cut by nearly a quarter in 2033 if Congress and the White House haven’t reached agreement before then.

And while both Democrats and Republicans say they want to “save” Social Security, there’s very little agreement or specifics in their campaign platforms about how lawmakers should avoid a reduction in benefits, or even when negotiations should begin.

Social Security is one of the more important topics a political candidate can talk about, given that 57% of voters said “securing Social Security” was a top priority for them when Pew Research Center surveyed adults in 2022.

And Social Security recipients are more likely than many other age groups to vote.

The longer lawmakers wait to address the solvency crisis, the harder it will be to fix the problem, a frustrating situation for those who have been talking about it for years.

“We have to redefine what the third rail is,” Louisiana Republican Sen. Bill Cassidy said during a discussion on Social Security last year. “The third rail, according to our leading presidential candidates, is that you pretend there’s nothing wrong with Social Security.”

The third rail, a long-used metaphor for policy areas that politicians don’t want to touch, should instead be about the consequences of allowing Social Security to go past that fiscal cliff, triggering a sharp decrease in benefits and doubling “the rate of poverty among the elderly,” Cassidy said.

“That should be the third rail,” he said. “The conversation has to change to that.”

Cassidy, the top Republican on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, criticized the leading presidential contenders during that April discussion for not having more detailed, proactive plans for avoiding a reduction in Social Security benefits.

“It’s going to require a president to provide leadership in bringing a bipartisan group together to avoid this 24% cut that’s scheduled to occur,” Cassidy said.

Little but talking points

Whoever wins the presidential election in November would hold the title until at least January 2029, just a few years before the cliff is set to take effect, absent action by Congress.

But, neither President Joe Biden nor any of the top Republican primary contenders have laid out detailed proposals or gone beyond talking points.

Dan Adcock, director of government relations & policy at the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, said during an interview with States Newsroom that it “behooves the president to try to come up with a proposal that would extend solvency and not have to wait until the last minute.”

The longer the next president and Congress put off negotiations about potentially changing benefits or possibly increasing revenue, or both, “the effectiveness of those proposals go down as you get closer to the solvency day,” Adcock said.

One of the main obstacles once talks do begin, he said, is that Democrats and Republicans “seem to be diametrically opposed to the other side’s solution.”

Then, the politics will come into play, potentially causing issues for those in the GOP.

“Especially on the Republican side, there is a growing understanding that proposals to cut benefits are deeply unpopular, even amongst their own political base,” Adcock said. “And so they’re trying to come up with other ideas to suggest ‘Well, let’s grow the economy’ and ‘Let’s drill for oil,’ and ‘Let’s find other sources of revenue.’ But I’m skeptical that those are really what you need to extend solvency.”

Polling suggests Americans would rather see Social Security taxes increased than have benefits cut. According to those surveyed in December by Gallup, 61% said the federal government should raise Social Security taxes, while 31% said it should cut benefits. The remaining people said they had no opinion.

That trend has existed for nearly 20 years, according to prior polling from Gallup.

Here’s what the leading contenders for president have said about addressing Social Security’s financial problems.


Biden’s latest budget proposal said his administration “is committed to protecting and strengthening Social Security and opposes any attempt to cut Social Security benefits for current or future recipients.”

“The Administration looks forward to working with the Congress to responsibly strengthen Social Security by ensuring that high-income individuals pay their fair share,” it said.

The budget request, however, didn’t include details about how Biden wants lawmakers to address the looming solvency issue with Social Security. And the White House hasn’t taken steps to begin serious negotiations with lawmakers.

The Biden campaign website has no policy section and no proposals regarding his plans for Social Security. The campaign did not respond to a request for details.


During a town hall with Fox News’ Sean Hannity in early December, former President Donald Trump suggested the United States should sell more fossil fuels to address Social Security finances.

“You don’t have to touch Social Security,” Trump said. “We have money laying in the ground far greater than anything we can do by hurting senior citizens with their Social Security.”

Trump criticized other GOP presidential candidates for suggesting that the United States should increase the eligibility age for Social Security, saying that raising it to 75 would lead to people being “devastated.”

The Trump campaign’s website does have a policy section but doesn’t include any proposals for Social Security. The campaign did not respond to a request asking for information about what he would do if elected.


In a September speech laying out her economic proposals, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley said she promised to “protect those receiving Social Security and Medicare.”

“We’ll keep these programs the same for anyone who’s in their 40s, 50s, 60s, or older, period,” Haley said. “And we’ll preserve Social Security and Medicare for the next generation.”

Haley said she would change the eligibility age “for younger people who are just entering the system” and that she planned to “limit benefits for wealthy people.”

“I recognize that Social Security and Medicare are the last thing the political class wants to talk about. Well, I just did,” Haley said. “Any candidate who refuses to address them should be disqualified.”

Haley’s campaign website doesn’t include any proposals about Social Security and the campaign didn’t return a request for details about whether one exists or what it might propose.


Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis indicated during an interview on Fox News that he doesn’t support changing Social Security benefits for current retirees, though he would be open to altering how the program works for younger people.

“I’m a governor of Florida; of course we’re going to protect people’s Social Security,” DeSantis said. “My grandma passed away when she was 91. That was her sole source of income. That’s true for millions of seniors. So that goes without saying.”

It would be a “much different thing” to talk “about making changes for people in their 30s or 40s so that the program is viable,” DeSantis said.

“And that’s something that I think there’s going to need to be discussions on,” he said.

DeSantis’ campaign website doesn’t include any policy proposals for Social Security.


Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said during the GOP debate in November that the biggest factors affecting Social Security are eligibility for the program, the age when people can begin collecting either partial or full benefits and taxes.

Christie said Americans are already “overtaxed” and ruled out that change. On eligibility, he said that wealthy people shouldn’t be able to collect Social Security, but didn’t list a threshold for cutting off access to the program for those with high incomes.

Christie declined to go into specifics about raising the eligibility age, but said his 30-year-old son should be able to adjust his retirement savings if the federal government were to increase the age when Americans can begin collecting either partial or full Social Security benefits.

“We have to deal with this problem,” Christie said, suggesting an increase to the eligibility age by a “few years” for people in their 30s and 40s.

“I have a son who’s in the audience tonight who’s 30 years old,” Christie said. “If he can’t adjust to a few years increase in the Social Security retirement age over the next 40 years, I’ve got bigger problems with him than his Social Security payments.”

Christie’s campaign website doesn’t include any policy proposals or details about how he would address Social Security’s future if elected president.


Entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy has said during debates and on the campaign trail that he doesn’t want to see any cuts to Social Security for retirees, but he hasn’t released a proposal for how to avoid the reduction in benefits that will take effect in a decade if the government doesn’t address the program’s financial situation.

“So this is really important right now,” he said in response to a question about Social Security during the November debate. “We’re working within the last window, I believe we will have to actually fix this problem while still leaving Social Security and Medicare benefits for current seniors intact.”

He said preserving Social Security could be achieved with proposals that are highly unlikely to ever move through Congress, including reducing the number of federal employees by 75%. He also proposed eliminating military assistance and foreign aid.

“I believe this is our last best window to be able to take care of our national debt problem through those severe measures, including sacrificing the foreign wars that many bloodthirsty members of both parties have a hunger for,” he said.

Ramaswamy’s campaign website doesn’t have any proposals addressing Social Security’s solvency.


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