Pence calls for Social Security reform, private savings accounts

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WASHINGTON — Former Vice President Mike Pence, a possible contender for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024, said Thursday that he wants to “reform” Social Security and institute private savings accounts for recipients.

“There are modest reforms in entitlements that can be done without disadvantaging anybody at the point of the need,” Pence told an audience at the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors summit in Washington, D.C. “I think the day could come when we could replace the New Deal with a better deal. Literally give younger Americans the ability to take a portion of their Social Security withholdings and put that into a private savings account.”

Video of the event was obtained by the Democratic tracking group American Bridge 21st Century.

The comments mark one of the first policy proposals from Pence as the field for the Republican nomination is fast taking shape.

Former President Donald Trump, who was first to announce his candidacy, started campaigning in earnest last weekend. And former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley is set to launch her campaign for president on Feb. 15.

House Republicans, having retaken control of the chamber, have floated cuts to the popular federal program. But Trump himself, who in 2020 proposed eliminating the payroll tax, which funds Social Security, warned Republicans in January to leave that program and Medicare alone.

“Under no circumstances should Republicans vote to cut a single penny from Medicare or Social Security,” he said in a video released by his 2024 presidential campaign.

Former Vice President Mike Pence.
Former Vice President Mike Pence in November. (Thos Robinson/Getty Images for The New York Times)

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, widely considered to be Trump’s chief competitor for the nomination at the moment — if he decides to get in the race — regularly supported increasing the retirement age for Social Security when he was in Congress.

Pence has not formally declared for president but is widely expected to jump into the race, after having spent close to two years making campaign-style trips across the country.

A Pence spokesman declined to comment for this story.

Critics have long derided the idea of overhauling Social Security as an effort to “privatize” the popular government program, which would likely result in cuts to how much elderly and disabled Americans receive from it.

“Mike Pence’s presidential bid is dead on arrival. In a failing attempt to give it life, he’s leaning into George W. Bush’s far-right, unpopular and deeply harmful plan to privatize Social Security,” said Grace Hagerty, a spokesperson for American Bridge. “It didn’t work then. It won’t work now.”

The idea has long circulated among conservatives but has been deemed the “third rail of American politics” for the backlash from voters worried about cuts to how much they would receive.

Pence supported Bush’s efforts to overhaul Social Security almost two decades ago, when he was a member of Congress and Bush, then president, pushed the idea.

Pence couched the idea in terms of cutting into the federal debt and limiting spending — an idea that took a back seat during the Trump administration but has regained favor among Republicans with Joe Biden in the White House.

“It’s absolutely essential that we generate leadership in this country that will be straight with the American people, that will take us off this trajectory of massive debt that we’re piling on the backs of those grandchildren,” Pence said.