Politics

Trump Mentions Cutting Entitlements, and Biden Pounces

After former President Donald J. Trump appeared to suggest he was open to cutting federal entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare, President Biden immediately seized on the comments, saying, “Not on my watch.”

Mr. Biden, as he gears up for a general election rematch against Mr. Trump, has been eager to highlight his promise not to touch Social Security or Medicare. He has argued that Republicans, led by Mr. Trump, would strip away those benefits. But in a sign of the issue’s political potency, Mr. Trump’s campaign quickly sought to clarify that Americans who rely on the programs do not need to worry.

In an interview that aired Monday on CNBC, Mr. Trump, when asked whether he had changed his stance on altering those programs in order to rein in the national debt, said that there was “a lot you can do in terms of entitlements in terms of cutting and in terms of also the theft and the bad management of entitlements, tremendous bad management of entitlements.”

But he also appeared to disagree with the premise of the question, which posited that something had to be done about the programs’ drag on the national debt.

“So I don’t necessarily agree with the statement,” Mr. Trump said.

Still, the White House was quick to respond.

“Cutting the Medicare and Social Security benefits that Americans have paid to earn their whole lives, only to make room for yet more unaffordable, trickle-down tax giveaways to the super wealthy, is exactly backwards,” Andrew Bates, a White House spokesman, said.

Mr. Trump’s campaign wasted no time in trying to clarify his remarks. In posts on X, campaign accounts insisted that Mr. Trump had been talking about “cutting waste,” and blasted Mr. Biden for past comments on Social Security, sharing a video in which Mr. Biden, as a senator in the 1990s, said he wanted to freeze federal spending, including on Social Security.

“President Trump delivered on his promise to protect Social Security and Medicare in his first term, and President Trump will continue to strongly protect Social Security and Medicare in his second term,” Karoline Leavitt, a spokeswoman for Mr. Trump’s campaign, said.

Mr. Biden continued to hammer his rival on the issue at an event in Goffstown, N.H., on Monday afternoon.

“Even this morning, Donald Trump said cuts to Social Security and Medicare are on the table,” he said. “I’m never going to allow that to happen. I won’t cut Social Security, I won’t cut Medicare.”

Mr. Trump has had to adjust his position on entitlement reforms in the past. In 2020, as president, he told an interviewer that he would “at some point” look at making cuts to entitlement programs, prompting Democrats to jump on the comments. The president quickly said: “Democrats are going to destroy your Social Security. I have totally left it alone, as promised, and will save it!”

In his time in office, Mr. Trump’s budget proposals tried to chip away at the social safety net by calling for cuts to Medicaid and other programs. He largely avoided proposing major slashes to Social Security’s retirement program or to Medicare, though he did call for some cuts that experts said would not have had a significant effect on benefits. (The changes were not passed by Congress.)

During the Republican primary, Mr. Trump attacked his opponents, Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis, by suggesting that they would cut entitlement benefits.

Nicholas Nehamas contributed reporting.

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