En español | As we have during past presidential elections, AARP reached out to the candidates from the Republican and Democratic parties to talk with us about the issues important to you. Both President Trump and former Vice President Biden graciously agreed to live phone interviews, which took place in late August. We asked many of the same questions of each, and when appropriate, we followed up. We allowed the candidates to present their views and positions without commenting on the accuracy of their claims. The interviews were edited for clarity and length.
Both candidates were eager and engaged in our conversations, which focused first on Social Security, then moved on to Medicare, nursing homes and other complex but vital topics. For the record, the candidates’ responses should not be interpreted as an AARP endorsement of any given policy position. AARP is nonpartisan and neither supports nor opposes candidates for office.
But what AARP strongly believes in is your right to vote, and the importance of exercising that right. To help, we've created how-to-vote guides for 53 U.S. states and territories. You can also go to aarp.org/election2020 for full election coverage, including AARP's positions on key issues.
— Robert Love, editor in chief, AARP Bulletin
More than half of all retired Americans rely on Social Security for at least half of their income. If reelected, how will you ensure that Social Security benefits are not cut?
TRUMP: We'll never cut Social Security, and you can rely on that. One thing you need is a strong country. We had a really strong country until we had the pandemic, the China virus. We were doing a level that we've never done before and Social Security was strong, and our country was strong. Right now, we're coming back. I'm looking at numbers now that look like the best quarter ever in terms of hiring people. I will tell you that we will never cut our Social Security. We will guard it with everything we have.
You have said you would like to “terminate the payroll tax” if you win reelection. As you know, payroll taxes fund Social Security and Medicare. How would you finance these programs without payroll taxes?
TRUMP: Providing a payroll tax deferral [which an Aug. 8 executive order permits] poses no risk to the Social Security trust fund and puts more money in the pockets of hardworking Americans.
More than half of all retired Americans rely on Social Security for at least half of their income. If elected, how will you ensure that Social Security benefits are not cut?
BIDEN: First of all, by making sure that President Trump doesn't get reelected. You saw what he said on the 12th of August: “We will be terminating the payroll tax after I hopefully get reelected.” Social Security's actuary predicted that would end Social Security by mid-2023.
I will strengthen it. What I would do is change the program for long-term solvency and increase the benefits going to widows and widowers from the steep cuts in benefits that occur; when the one who is getting the biggest payment passes, the payment drops.
I would not change payroll taxes for anyone earning less than $400,000, but everybody making more than that will pay the same payroll tax on wages over $400,000 as they pay on their first $137,000. The estimates are that Social Security will be secure for a long, long time and allow us to actually increase, not decrease, payments to seniors who have outlived their savings.
So there would be a payroll tax gap between $137,700 [the income threshold in 2020 at which you no longer pay payroll taxes] and $400,000?
BIDEN: Yes, that's right. We could easily do this. The burden on someone making $3 million having to pay into Social Security at the same rate as you making $50,000? It is fair. It is affordable. It solves a gigantic social problem and it gives absolute assurance. There are ways to pay for it just by being fair. It's time that people start paying their fair share. We're not punishing anybody.
Even with Medicare coverage, older Americans spend something like $1 out of $6 on health care, on average. If reelected, how will you protect Medicare from benefit cuts, and how can the program be improved?
TRUMP: The one thing that is so important and that I've done like nobody else: cut the cost of prescription drugs. As you know, I just signed executive orders to get it done. If you look back, you'll see that last year drug prices went down; very little, but they went down about 1 percent. That's the first time in 51 years that the cost of drugs went down.
Through executive orders, I've instituted “favored nations” [deals] and also buying from other countries. Germany gets a tremendous deal and so do many other countries, except us. We're the only ones that don't. In Germany, if they sell a pill for 10 cents and we sell it for $2, under favored nations we [also] get it for 10 cents. Now I'm taking a lot of heat. Big pharma is not happy. But this will be the greatest price reduction in drugs in the history of our country.
How will you take it from executive orders to actually implementing a program like this?
TRUMP: It will be very hard to [undo the executive orders]. A president would have to come in and say, “Hey, we're going to raise the prices” of whatever drug you're buying by 10 times, nine times, eight times in order to go back to the old system.
I don't think that's going to be politically viable once we do this. This is one of those executive orders where once it's instituted, it's going to be very hard, if not impossible, to break. I'm not dealing with Congress on it. In fact, I will tell you that a lot of congressmen and senators are not happy with it .… But I felt I had an obligation to do it. I understand the system, and it's a rigged system. It's a rigged system against the customer. It's actually a rigged system against our government because, as you know, much of it is paid for by our government. I've taken a lot of heat, a lot of commercials against me, but it's something I felt I had to do.
Satisfaction among people who are beneficiaries of Medicare is very high and yet it is a costly system, and critics say it could be improved. What do you think could be done to make it even better for older Americans?
TRUMP: Management can be improved. One of the biggest ways of doing that, as you know, is … look at fraud, waste and abuse. By the way, [Medicare] Part D premiums are lower by around 12 percent. We've done a lot, but there is a big thing on fraud, waste and abuse, and we'll take care of that.
This is an election that has to be won because when they say “Medicare for All,” the country doesn't make enough money if we put every penny into it. What that will do is actually destroy Medicare. It will ruin coverage. It's a disaster. It's a very dangerous thing they're playing with.
Even under Medicare, older Americans spend something like $1 out of $6 on health care, on average. If you are elected, how will you protect Medicare from benefit cuts, and how can the program be improved?
BIDEN: Medicare is a lifeline for around 60 million Americans. Under the Affordable Care Act, we made sure that we strengthened Medicare. We extended the life of the Medicare trust fund by bending the cost curve. We expanded free preventative services like mammograms and colonoscopies, and we closed the doughnut hole so more seniors could afford their prescriptions.
For me, preserving and defending Medicare is a sacred trust between our seniors and our government. We've got to give Medicare the power, for example, to negotiate drug prices. Trump said he was going to do that. The Democratic Congress passed a bill for Medicare to negotiate drugs prices, and what did he do? He came out against it.
I feel very passionate about this, as you can tell. There is a lot we can, and we must, do!
On your website you note that you would keep Medicare as a “separate and distinct program, and ensure there is no disruption to the current Medicare system.” I'm assuming that is a guarantee against “Medicare for All” or other single-payer systems encroaching on it.
BIDEN: My opposition to the single-payer system is related to the fact that you eliminate everybody's private insurance that they may like better. They're not allowed to keep it.
The whole point is that [Medicare] is a sacred trust that the government has made. It is gigantic. It has eased the burden on not just millions of seniors, but millions of families.
If elected, how would you help cut rising prescription drug prices for all Americans?
BIDEN: What I proposed is that for every new drug coming on the market — everything from dementia drugs to Alzheimer's to cancer to diabetes — we're going to put together a 25-person commission of scientific experts, and every new drug you're seeking approval of will go before that commission. And you are going to indicate how much you invested to provide that drug. You'll get a serious return on your investment, but once that price is set, that's the only price you can sell it for, or you're not going to get the drug approved.
Once that is done, then you cannot come along and up the price exponentially. You can only up the price once it's set through inflation or if you can demonstrate there has been something specifically done to improve the drug. The American public understands that there is so much price gouging for things that should be a basic right to access — things that allow you to live.
And we're going to make sure that what they're advertising is true. Whatever you advertise, be prepared to have it scrutinized.
When a successful vaccine emerges, do you think that older Americans who have suffered the most during the pandemic and are at greater risk should receive it first?
TRUMP: Yes, I do. I think they should, absolutely. We've learned a lot and done a lot of things right. We've learned our seniors are very, very susceptible, especially when they have heart [disease] and diabetes.
When a vaccine for COVID-19 does emerge, should older Americans who have suffered the most in this pandemic receive it first?
BIDEN: First of all, you've got to trust that the vaccine is safe and effective and fairly distributed. Politics shouldn't play a role in that process. Science and public health experts alone should decide what's safe. The clinical data for approval of that vaccine should be publicly released in detail so other scientists can review it.
We need somebody in charge to say directly and precisely how the vaccine would be distributed. We have to prioritize health care workers who have given so much to keep us alive because they're the ones who will still be administering care. They're the most at risk and the most needed.
Included in the most-at-risk are seniors. The data is fairly overwhelming. Every nursing home in America should be right at the top of the list.
The decision about distribution should be made by the public health experts. I won't prioritize the wealthy and the well-connected. That's not the way it would be distributed if it occurs on my watch.
More than 40 percent of coronavirus deaths in the first few months of the pandemic occurred in nursing homes. Do you think it is primarily the federal government’s role to ensure that nursing homes are safe?
TRUMP: Yes, I do. People like [New York Gov. Andrew] Cuomo, they were warned. They knew about it and they didn't do it.
They had plenty of capacity. We built them hospitals in New York. We sent a fantastic hospital ship. They hardly used it. They had tremendous alternatives and some of them did a very, very poor job.
We will be very much involved in terms of producing safety in nursing homes.
More than 40 percent of all the coronavirus deaths in the first months of the pandemic occurred in nursing homes. How would you ensure that nursing homes are safe?
BIDEN: Trump has failed with COVID. He's failing the most basic duty we have. We [the Obama administration] said you had to have one person in the nursing home who was qualified to deal with and provide for protection against infectious diseases. That could be everything from making sure that you have hand sanitizer outside of every room and everywhere in the place, but also making sure that people are tested, making sure that people are in fact protected. That has not happened. This president is trying to do away with the protections that we insisted be part of nursing home requirements.
Do you believe that federal programs like Medicare or Medicaid in some cases should pay for in-home care for older Americans? How could your administration provide more support for the nation’s army of roughly 40 million unpaid family caregivers?
TRUMP: We're looking at that very seriously. These are incredible people. They have been unrecognized for the job they do, and if they didn't do that job, we'd be swamped; our hospitals and our health care system would be swamped. We're looking at doing something to help out and very substantially.
That would be through Medicare or Medicaid?
TRUMP: We think so, yes. We're looking at that as being probably the best alternative.
Should Medicare or Medicaid pay for in-home care for older Americans? How would you provide support for the nation’s army of unpaid family caregivers?
BIDEN: COVID-19 proves how vital it is to give people who want to live at home a chance to stay there. Again, it gets back to basic dignity. As president, I'm going to invest $450 billion so more Americans can choose to live at home if they want to.
We're going to give family caregivers, the really quiet heroes out there, the support they deserve. We're going to create a $5,000 tax credit for informal [family] caregivers.
With the CARE Act, which I think is really important, hospitals give caregivers all the information they need when their loved ones are being discharged.
So you would take the CARE Act [the Caregiver Advise, Record, Enable Act], which has been passed by 43 states and territories, and make it a federal law?
BIDEN: Yes, absolutely.
The death of George Floyd in Minneapolis this summer sparked protests across America seeking more and greater social justice. What would your administration do in your second term to address racial tensions and disparities?
TRUMP: You know, we had a great thing going until we got hit by the China virus. The best thing you can do is create a great economy and get everybody jobs and we were there. There was a lot of unification coming along until we got hit by the virus. If you look back and go back a day before [the pandemic] you would have seen it was all coming together.
Then when we got hit and then you had the George Floyd situation which was terrible, but I will tell you, we really had it going.
Once this is successful, you're going to see unification like you haven't seen. I have tremendous African American support, I think more than any other Republican has had, and I think you're going to see some really great things happen.
So, you believe that the key to addressing racial tensions is to have a vibrant economy?
TRUMP: That's right. We had the best African American employment numbers in history by far, not even close. We had the best Hispanic American, the best Asian American, the best numbers in history. We had the greatest economy in the history of the world and we had to close it because of the China virus.
The death of George Floyd sparked protests across America seeking more and greater social justice. What would your administration do to address racial tensions and disparities?
BIDEN: Today our nation is at an inflection point. I think the blinders have finally been taken off for the average American. They have seized the moment finally to deal with real change.
People are ready. That 17-year-old kid had the courage to take out a camera and for eight minutes and 46 seconds film George Floyd's death. It raised the awareness of people not just in the country but all over the world.
We've got to provide economic opportunities that don't exist now. We have to find access to housing. We have to find access to education. You've got to make sure that we have community policing and reestablish bonds of trust. We've got to make sure that we do not tolerate the burning and looting that take place. All that does is undercut everything that we're fighting for.
In polling, our members tell us they are concerned about how divided America has become. What would you do in your second term to unite this country?
TRUMP: The most important thing is going to be how successful we are. We had the best job numbers we've ever had in the last quarter, over 9 million job hirings.
What is the most important thing you would want to achieve in a second term for older Americans as president?
TRUMP: I think taking care of Medicare, making it even better.
The other thing that I think is so important is the cost of drugs. You will see drugs coming down by numbers that are not even believable; 50 percent, 60 percent, 70 percent — and that will start happening fairly soon. It's not something I'm going to do, it's something I've already done, much to the chagrin of the drug companies.
What is the most important thing you would want to achieve for older Americans as president?
BIDEN: The thing that I would most want to do is have people live out their lives and die in dignity. The vast majority of Americans want to stay in their homes, stay where they were. That's number one.
Number two, I would make sure that they didn't live with the constant stress of not having enough to eat or not being able to afford their medication.
Thirdly, I'm going to make sure that if you wish to continue to work, you can continue to work without facing age discrimination.
Many older Americans are concerned about how to vote safely in November. What would be your advice to election officials to ensure people can vote?
TRUMP: I think the mail-in is very dangerous from a country[-wide] standpoint. If you look at the statistics, 20 percent to 30 percent of the ballots are getting lost. A lot of people, including seniors, want to go [to the polls] because of the security of the vote. That's the most secure way. Mail-in ballots, universal mail-in ballots is not good.
I think that you're going to find extremely safe voting places. Everybody is geared up for that. Wear the mask, but I think you're going to see a very different picture on Nov. 3 than you're seeing today.
We are going to be making sure that everybody is tested from the standpoint of people working at the facilities. We're going to be practicing distancing. The voting booths are going to be extremely safe. Nobody is going to have a problem if they go out and vote.
Many older Americans are concerned about how to safely vote come November. What do you feel needs to happen to ensure that all Americans can exercise their right to cast a ballot?
BIDEN: This president is trying to scare the hell out of people by suggesting that mail-in votes are a fraud, and indicating that your mail-in vote will not actually be counted. Make a plan about how you're going to vote.
The bottom line is that the president keeps whining and fearmongering because he's scared what will happen if more folks actually show up and vote. He's worried he's going to lose. We want to make sure that every eligible voter can cast their ballot.
Everybody should remember: We voted during the Civil War, we voted in the midst of the 1918 flu pandemic, we voted in two world wars, and we can do it again. We can protect our democracy and public health at the same time.