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How Donald Trump Might Plan to Change Social Security

By Dan Caplinger – Oct 9, 2016 at 2:42AM

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Find out about the Republican presidential candidate's unusual approach to Social Security.

Image source: Donald J. Trump for President.

The presidential election in the U.S. is just a month away, and candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are fighting hard on a number of key issues. One of the most important has to do with retirement financial security, where Hillary Clinton has made several proposals to change Social Security. In past campaigns, Republican candidates have called to reduce Social Security. But at least so far, Trump has avoided that tack, instead saying that he would leave Social Security benefits alone. Below, we'll take a closer look at exactly what Trump has said on the issue and why it's so different from the typical Republican stance.

Trump on Social Security

Getting definitive information on Donald Trump's position on Social Security isn't as easy as you might expect on such an important issue. The Trump for President website includes 13 different topics on which the candidate states positions, but Social Security isn't one of them.

One reason for that might be that Trump's position on Social Security is quite simple. As early as spring 2015, Trump made his position on Social Security clear, saying at the White House Correspondents Dinner last year, "I'm not going to be cutting Social Security." As he noted during the Republican primary campaign, nearly every other candidate running for the party's nomination was proposing ways to cut back on entitlement programs, but Trump made preserving Social Security a key part of his platform, saying in his announcement to run for office, "We must protect Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, without cuts."

Trump has a much different viewpoint on Social Security than most of his peers, who have recommended changes that include raising the retirement age, adjusting the way that cost-of-living increases are calculated, and means-testing for benefits for higher-income retirees. Yet Trump treats Social Security less as an entitlement and more as a negotiated agreement between the American people and their government. "It's not unreasonable for people who paid into a system for decades to expect to get their money's worth," Trump said in his 2011 book, Time to Get Tough. "That's not an 'entitlement' -- that's honoring a deal."

Could changes come under President Trump?

Trump's position on Social Security is easy enough to understand that it's tempting simply to conclude that no changes would occur if he won the presidency. Yet some concerns arose during the Republican convention that suggests the issue isn't as clear-cut as it might seem.

Specifically, the 2016 Republican Party platform refers to Social Security in a different way. With just a single paragraph of the 66-page document titled "Saving Social Security" discussing the program, the Republican platform sums up its position succinctly:

Current retirees and those close to retirement can be assured of their benefits. Of the many reforms being proposed, all options should be considered to preserve Social Security. ... Saving Social Security is more than a challenge. It is our moral obligation to those who trusted in the government's word.

One such reform would be to privatize all or part of the Social Security program. In his 2000 book The America We Deserve, Trump said, "Privatization would be good for all of us. Directing Social Security funds into personal accounts invested in real assets would swell national savings, pumping hundreds of billions of dollars into jobs and the economy. These investments would boost national investment, productivity, wages, and future economic growth."

By contrast, the idea of having the U.S. government invest in stocks or other private investments is completely contrary to Trump's beliefs. "Not only would a market downturn spell disaster for millions of retirees," Trump said in The America We Deserve, "but the process by which government would choose stocks would also be entirely political, making lobbyists and other political hacks the new masters of the universe."

With the 2016 presidential campaign entering the homestretch, both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are trying to make their views on key issues like Social Security known. For those who believe that economic growth is the catalyst that can lead to prosperity for all, Trump's plan carries a lot of appeal and has the added virtue of being politically expedient in appealing to average Americans who rely heavily on Social Security for their retirement income.

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