The Huffington Post’s estimable Ryan Grim reported the other day that President Obama was the “first” Democratic president to propose cuts to Social Security. Later in the day, he ran a brief correction.
An earlier version of this story said that Obama was the first Democratic president to propose cuts to Social Security. A proposal from President Jimmy Carter in 1977 proposed indexing changes that effectively cut benefits for future retirees.
Right. Carter not only changed the index, he proposed doing so in a way that reduced benefits more than chained-CPI would. Carter also scaled back eligibility rules for Social Security’s disability insurance.
What’s more, in 1993, President Clinton taxed benefits for higher-income Social Security beneficiaries, which had the practical effect of cutting benefits for quite a few retirees. Clinton later said he wanted to cut Social Security even more, reducing benefits by about 1% per year, though Congress wouldn’t go for it.
Taken together, the last Democratic president who didn’t try to make at least some kind of Social Security cuts was President Johnson, who left office more than 44 years ago.
This is not to say Democrats are somehow hostile to Social Security. In fact, that’s arguably ridiculous – Democrats created Social Security and have been its champions for nearly a century, successfully combating efforts from George W. Bush, Paul Ryan, and other Republicans who’ve fought to privatize it out of existence.
But when it comes to tweaking the program, and even trimming benefits, Obama is hardly the first.