Under a relentless barrage of questions from Washington journalists about why President Trump’s proposed budget isn’t cutting Social Security or Medicare, Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney finally acknowledged on Sunday that Trump may in fact violate his campaign promises to protect the two programs — by taking aim at the Social Security program that helps the disabled.
The elite Washington media is almost uniquely obsessed with the notion that cutting spending on the old and poor to reduce the federal deficit is the litmus test of a responsible budget plan. At last week’s press conference announcing the proposed budget — which includes massive cuts to regulatory agencies and massive increases in defense spending — Mulvaney was repeatedly badgered by reporters about why the administration is not taking aim at Social Security and Medicare.
During a interview with CBS’s Face the Nation on Sunday, the administration finally started to give in.
Mulvaney was pressed by host John Dickerson about whether the administration would be open to cutting “entitlements.” Mulvaney initially hesitated to endorse any cuts, repeating Trump’s promises on the campaign trail to leave Social Security and Medicare alone.
“Well, I think the promise was he wasn’t going to affect anybody and we haven’t with this budget,” Mulvaney replied. “Keep in mind what this budget is. This is just the discretionary spending part of the budget, which was a necessary first step.”
“But he might look at — at future retirement — future Medicare recipients?” Dickerson followed up.
Mulvaney replied by pivoting to the specific issue of Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), a program administered by the Social Security Administration that aids disabled Americans. He complained about the program’s cost and indicated that the administration wants to alter it.
“Let me ask you a question, do you really think that Social Security disability insurance is part of what people think of when they think of Social Security? I don’t think so,” he said, with a slight grin on his face. “It’s the fastest growing program. It was — it grew tremendously under President Obama. It’s a very wasteful program and we want to try and fix that.”
Watch the exchange:
While it’s true that disability claims increased under the Obama administration, that’s not unusual during a recession, when many older workers have difficulty finding work that meets their needs.
In 2015, the federal government spent $143 billion on SSDI, which is primarily financed by the Social Security payroll tax. This totals around 4 percent of the federal budget. The average monthly benefit for disabled workers in January 2017 was $1,171.25.
SSDI has its own trust fund that is separate from the Social Security program’s funds reserved for retirees and survivors. The National Academy of Social Insurance illustrates how disability insurance and funds for old age and survivors are financed the same way but administered by two different funds, both run by the Social Security Administration:
The program largely benefits older Americans who have worked decades and are near retirement age. The “I” in SSDI stands for insurance because workers pay into this program so it is there for them when they need it. The average SSDI recipient has worked 22 years, and 75 percent of those who benefit are 50 years old or older. Recall that 53 percent of voters ages 50 and over supported President Trump during the election in November.
It is hardly an easy program to enroll in — the Social Security Administration rejects a majority of those who apply for disability payments. The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities notes that fewer than 400 of 1,000 initial applications for approval are accepted.