Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton were asked about the future of Social Security and Medicare in the penultimate question of the final presidential debate.
It represents a win for retirement advocates, especially AARP, the Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group for older Americans, which lobbied debate moderators to address the fiscal outlook of Americans' largest entitlement programs.
"We're glad to see that in the third and final debate the candidates discussed Social Security," said Roberta Eckert, vice president at the Nationwide Retirement Institute. "Every day 10,000 people turn 65. This alone represents a large demographic of voters, but Social Security is an issue that affects every American worker."
Clinton, Trump on Social Security
Even on bread-and-butter fiscal issues like Social Security and Medicare, the candidates managed to trade insults.
Clinton suggested that Trump would avoid paying taxes if she was able to raise the maximum taxable cap on annual earnings, which is $118,500 this year and $127,200 next year, for Social Security payroll taxes. In response, Trump called her "such a nasty woman."
She also proposed enhancing Social Security benefits for low-income workers and for women, but did not spell out how she would pay for those increases.
Trump pledged to cut taxes as well as repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act when asked by the debate moderator Chris Wallace if the candidate would "make a deal to save Medicare and Social Security that included both tax increases and benefit cuts."
Trump campaign officials said that his policies would encourage economic growth that would "secure Social Security for the future," but gives few details for how such policies would work.
Clinton's campaign said she would oppose reducing cost-of-living adjustments for Social Security beneficiaries and fight any efforts to raise the retirement age to qualify for benefits.
In the past, Clinton was supportive of the Simpson-Bowles deficit reduction plan, which would have reduced Social Security benefits, according to allegedly hacked private emails posted by WikiLeaks. The Clinton campaign has not confirmed the authenticity of these documents.
The candidates' vague proposals to preserve, and in Clinton's case expand, Social Security and Medicare would be difficult to pull off, according to an analysis by the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Budget.
Both candidates would have to reduce government spending elsewhere to pay for their proposals and implement massive cuts to stabilize the national debt. (See table below.)
Of course, Clinton and Trump could raise taxes to slow the growth of the national debt. Clinton's tax plan has already proposed an additional $1.5 trillion of revenue increases over a decade, while Trump's tax plan could lose $5.8 trillion in revenue, according to the committee's estimates.