Now that Donald Trump is settling in as the president-elect, he is beginning to outline the priorities for his administration. As with many issues regarding Trump, it is hard to say for sure where he stands on Social Security, public pensions, and retirement security in general. Here are a few potential ways President Trump could affect the retirement savings crisis.
As a candidate for president, Trump pledged not to cut Social Security benefits. However, he has not embraced the calls by many for expanding Social Security to address the looming retirement security crisis. He has also rejected the idea of lifting the Social Security payroll tax in order to more adequately fund the long-term health of the program. Vice-President-Elect Pence was a strong advocate of Social Security privatization in the House of Representatives. Additionally, Trump’s point person for Social Security during the transition– former Dallas mayor Tom Leppert- strongly favors the privatization of Social Security. In the past Trump has also supported private individual accounts in Social Security, so it will be worth watching to see if that idea arises again.
Donald Trump said basically nothing about public pensions as a candidate. This is not surprising since the federal government has little involvement with state and local pensions. However, after his election victory, Trump has already proposed attacking the pension benefits of federal employees. As part of a sweeping attack on the benefits and worker protections of federal employees, Trump has suggested eliminating the defined benefit pension component of the federal retirement plan. Federal workers participate in the “three-legged stool” of retirement savings: Social Security; a defined benefit pension; and the Thrift Savings Plan, a 401(k)-style plan. This federal program is regarded as highly successful and the federal pension plan is well-funded. It’s ridiculous that the incoming Trump administration would even consider attacking the pension plan for federal employees.
There are other, less direct ways the new Trump administration could undermine retirement security. They could repeal or weaken the fiduciary rule implemented by the Obama administration that requires financial advisors to give advice that is in the best interest of their clients, especially when it comes to retirement savings.
The Trump administration could also meddle in the so-called “Secure Choice” programs adopted by half-a-dozen states in recent years. In response to the growing retirement savings gap in the private sector, several states have implemented programs that require employers to offer a retirement plan for their employees or else enroll their employees in a state-run IRA program. The Obama administration has supported these proposals and allowed them to proceed. The Trump administration could slow down the implementation of these programs by enforcing federal regulations differently.
On the campaign trail, Donald Trump spoke about addressing the concerns of the “forgotten man and woman.” Retirement security is an issue of great concern to many working families. Let’s hope that the president-elect will look for ways to address this crisis, rather than pursuing ideologically-motivated privatization efforts.