GOP Presidential Candidate Nikki Haley Floats a Social Security Reform Trial Balloon in Iowa

WEST DES MOINES, Iowa — In her latest swing through Iowa, Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley took aim at the nation’s financially troubled safety nets for seniors, telling Council Bluff Republicans it’s time to change the retirement age and check Social Security and Medicare benefits for wealthier Americans.

If the former South Carolina governor was sending out a trial balloon to see how reform ideas would fly in the first-in-the-nation caucus state, it seems said balloon may have hit the third rail.

Haley’s campaign mentioned nothing of her Social Security/Medicare ideas in its usual post-event barrage of press releases. We heard all about Haley’s “packed” town hall in the gathering room of Council Bluffs’ Thunderbowl. Team Haley peppered one press release with media tweets about how popular the Republican is, how she blasted Democrats and Republicans for the nation’s debt problems, and how tweaked the noses of her likely GOP opponents.

But the controlled campaign said nothing about Haley’s apparent call for raising the retirement age and enacting a wealth litmus test for Social Security and Medicare.

“The first thing you do is you change the retirement age of the young people coming up so that we can try and have some sort of system for them,” Haley said at the town hall session.

She offered no specifics on what the retirement age should be, or on the income threshold that would restrict the benefits that all working Americans — rich and poor — pay into. Haley’s press officer did not return The Iowa Star’s request for comment by press time.

The former governor did say older Americans should not see any reductions to their Social Security and Medicare benefits as she spoke of government programs on the road to bankruptcy.

“You reform the entitlements, but you do it in a way that you don’t take anything away from seniors or people who are getting ready to retire,” Haley said. “You focus on the new generation, you focus on what’s next.”

No doubt Social Security is in trouble. The Congressional Budget Office’s most recent long-term Social Security projections show the trust funds are headed for insolvency by 2033. Without legislative action, CBO estimates that benefits would be automatically cut by 23 percent across the board upon insolvency.

Dire indeed.

But talk of cutting the top entitlement programs for the nation’s older citizens has long been verboten. President Joe Biden has made the mostly dubious talking point that Republicans will slash Social Security and Medicare part of his constant messaging effort. He is expected to do so through the 2024 presidential campaign.

That message is working. A Morning Consult/Politico poll last month found nearly half of registered voters (46 percent) believe the GOP will try to cut funding for Social Security and Medicare.

Trump has positioned himself as the protector of the entitlement programs — protecting the benefits from fellow Republicans like Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. Trump has accused DeSantis of being “the man who wants to cut Social Security and Medicare,” asserting the governor is a “wheelchair over the cliff kind of guy, just like his hero, failed politician Paul Ryan.”

Former Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI-01) pushed a sweeping reform proposal in 2010 that would have gradually raised the age of eligibility for Medicare from 65 to 69.5. It also would have cut the subsidy wealthier seniors would receive. The CBO estimated that Ryan’s proposal would have kept the cost of Medicare at around 4 percent of GDP from 2020 to 2060, instead of rising to 11 percent, as was projected, according to City Journal.

Currently, most Americans are eligible for Medicare at age 65, and full Social Security benefits at 67.

While serving in congress, DeSantis voted for non-binding budget resolutions. A recent CNN KFile review of DeSantis’ comments during his 2012 congressional campaign found support for privatizing Social Security as well.

The presumptive presidential contender seems to have changed his tune, now.

“We’re not going to mess with Social Security as Republicans,” DeSantis told Fox News. “I think that that’s pretty clear.”

The Florida governor plans a trip through Iowa on Friday, in Davenport and Des Moines, ostensibly to promote his book, The Courage to be Free: Florida’s Blueprint for America’s Revival.

Haley is in the Des Moines area Friday morning for a foreign policy event with U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA).

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M.D. Kittle is the National Political Editor for The Star News Network.
Photo “Nikki Haley” by Nikki Haley. 



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