How the Safety Net Can Survive Trump

Social Democracy’s Staying Power

Time for a raise: rallying in support of a $15 minimum wage, Chicago, April 2016. JIM YOUNG / REUTERS

During his campaign for the U.S. presidency, Donald Trump promised to protect the foundations of the United States’ public insurance system. “I was the first & only potential GOP candidate to state there will be no cuts to Social Security, Medicare & Medicaid,” he tweeted in May 2015. “The Republicans who want to cut SS & Medicaid are wrong,” he added two months later

Trump’s commitments to the safety net set him apart from his Republican competitors during the campaign. But since taking office, the president has fallen in line with Republican leaders in Congress who seek to roll back the social programs he pledged to preserve. Last year, with Trump’s support, Republican lawmakers tried and narrowly failed to slash Medicaid, which helps pay for health services for low-income Americans, as well as government subsidies for private purchases of health insurance. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan of Wisconsin and Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, the chair of the Senate Finance Committee, have said they will seek to scale back Medicare this year. The partial privatization of Social Security could be on the table, and food stamps, disability benefits, and housing assistance are also likely targets.

Such proposals seem to threaten the progress the United States has made toward social democratic capitalism—a system that features modestly regulated markets, a big welfare state, and public services meant to boost employment, such as childcare and job-placement assistance. The evidence suggests that social democratic policies improve economic security and well-being without sacrificing liberty, economic growth, health, or happiness. Contrary to conventional wisdom, the country has gradually come to embrace this model over the last century. The federal government has built public insurance programs that help Americans manage old age, unemployment, illnesses, and more. Since 2000, California, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, and Washington State, which are home to around one-quarter of all Americans, have gone further, introducing such policies as paid parental and sick leave and a $15 minimum wage. Although the United States has not reached

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