What the Harris Pick Means

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Bring on the hot takes, it’s finally over: Kamala Harris is Joe Biden’s running mate. It’s Wednesday, and this is your politics tip sheet. Sign up here to get On Politics in your inbox every weekday.

You’ll be seeing a lot more of this senator in the news.

When President Trump announced that he was unilaterally deferring payroll taxes to bring economic relief to struggling Americans, he and his aides thought it would allow them to frame him as pro-worker.

But the move comes with political risks. Eliminating the payroll tax could jeopardize the funding stream for Social Security, which is one of the government’s most popular programs, providing benefits to about 65 million people.

The president has given Democrats an opening to raise Social Security cuts as an issue in the final months of an election in which his support among older voters already appears to be shaky.

On Monday, Joe Biden capitalized on the opportunity. “Donald Trump said that if he’s re-elected, he’ll defund Social Security,” he tweeted. “We can’t let that happen.”

The Democratic National Committee amplified the line of attack the next day, blasting out a statement that highlighted “At Least 7 Times Trump Said He Will Permanently Eliminate Funds To Social Security And Medicare.”

Beyond the complicated legal questions about whether Trump can circumvent Congress by using executive actions to create his own tax-and-spend policies, and the economic debate about whether a payroll tax even helps the right people (it does nothing for the unemployed), the proposal leaves Trump juggling political priorities.

He is now balancing the potential benefits of giving working people more money in their paychecks — at least temporarily — versus undercutting his own pledge from the 2016 campaign that he would protect entitlement programs.

His economic advisers have insisted that the temporary tax deferral, which Trump announced on Saturday, will have no effect on Social Security or Medicare. “The president in no way wants to harm those trust funds,” Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, said on Sunday. “There would be no reduction to those benefits. And the president’s made that very clear.”

But many older Americans — a key base of support for Trump in the 2016 election — have already grown wary of him because of their anxiety over the coronavirus, and may not be convinced by those promises. Adding to the confusion is that Trump campaign advisers are saying that the president wants to go further and pass a permanent payroll tax cut if he is re-elected. The administration has not explained how Social Security would be funded if a tax dedicated to it evaporates.

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