Biden seizes on Trump floating 'cutting' related to Social Security to curb the national debt

Trump's campaign later said he was "talking about cutting waste."

March 11, 2024, 2:57 PM

President Joe Biden and his reelection campaign have seized on former President Donald Trump, in an interview Monday on CNBC, floating cuts related to entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare in a potential second term in order to curb the tens of trillions of dollars in national debt.

Responding to his rival's comments from his personal X account, Biden wrote, "Not on my watch."

His campaign, which is in the early stages of the lengthy general election fight with Trump, has been highlighting the former president's exchange with CNBC anchor Joe Kernen, using clips of the interview on social media to argue Trump -- who also raised the prospect of overhauling how entitlements are managed -- would threaten retirement programs in the White House.

The Trump campaign has pushed back, saying his words are being distorted.

"Have you changed your outlook on how to handle entitlements -- Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid? Mr. President, it seems like something has to be done or else we are going to be stuck at 120% of debt to [gross domestic product] forever," Kernan said to Trump in the interview.

"So first of all, there is 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," Trump replied.

"There's tremendous amounts of things and numbers of things you can do, so I don't necessarily agree with the statement," he said. "I know that they're going to end up weakening Social Security because the country is weak."

PHOTO: Donald Trump arrives for a campaign event in Rome, Georgia, on March 9, 2024.
Donald Trump arrives for a campaign event in Rome, Georgia, on March 9, 2024.
Elijah Nouvelage/AFP via Getty Images

On social media, Trump's campaign has attacked the Biden campaign for sharing snippets from Trump's answer rather than the longer exchange.

"If you losers didn't cut his answer short, you would know President Trump was talking about cutting waste," reads one post from a Trump campaign account.

Later in the day, Biden hit on the comments during a speech in New Hampshire to claim that Trump is "still at it" with threats to entitlement programs.

He also criticized Trump for passing a large-scale tax cut for wealthy Americans and large corporations that Republicans said was good for the economy but which Biden said "exploded the federal deficit." And he repeated his 2020 campaign promise to not raise a "single cent" in taxes on those earning less than $400,000.

On the 2024 campaign trail, Trump promised to protect the retirement programs while working to sink the campaigns of Republican challengers Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis, who both floated reforms to the programs as a way to reduce the national deficit.

"Cut waste, fraud and abuse everywhere that we can find it and there's plenty of it," Trump said in a campaign video from January 2023. "But do not cut the benefits our seniors worked for and paid for their entire lives. Save Social Security, don't destroy it."

At a rally earlier this month in Richmond, Virginia, Trump contended it was Biden who would threaten the programs, telling supporters, "I will not let him destroy Social Security" and "I will not let him crash Medicare."

PHOTO: President Joe Biden delivers the State of the Union address in the House Chamber of the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on March 7, 2024.
President Joe Biden delivers the State of the Union address in the House Chamber of the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on March 7, 2024.
Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

The White House weighed in on Trump's comments on Monday as well, saying they align with his budget proposals while he was president, despite Trump's claims of misrepresentation.

Biden on Monday unveiled his own budget proposal for the coming fiscal year. Though the plan is unlikely to influence the divided Congress, it serves as a way for Biden to highlight election year priorities.

He calls for raising Medicare tax rates from 3.8% to 5% for those with incomes over $400,000 while requiring billionaires pay a 25% minimum tax, among other budget items Republicans were quick to slam as excessive.

Congress will eventually need to act on Social Security, which 65 million Americans currently rely on, as it faces a long-term funding shortfall. But, so far, the parties can't agree on solutions, as lawmakers also remain engaged in long-term battles over government spending and the debt ceiling.

"Many of my friends on the other side of the aisle want to put Social Security on the chopping block," Biden said in his State of the Union speech last week. "If anyone here tries to cut Social Security or Medicare or raise the retirement age, I will stop you."

He added: "I'll protect and strengthen Social Security and make the wealthy pay their fair share."

ABC News' Justin Gomez and Alexandra Hutlzer contributed to this report.