FACT CHECK: Nikki Haley Claims She Never Said She Wanted To Cut Social Security Benefits Or Raise Retirement Age

Christine Sellers | Fact Check Reporter

During a Jan. 21 appearance on CNN, 2024 presidential hopeful and former South Carolina Republican Gov. Nikki Haley claimed she never said she wanted to cut Social Security benefits or raise the retirement age.

Verdict: Misleading

Multiple news outlets, including CNN, have reported that Haley said she plans to raise the retirement age and overhaul Social Security benefits for younger Americans. A Haley campaign spokesperson said that Haley’s proposed reforms do not apply to seniors or those approaching retirement age.

Fact Check:

Haley expressed concerns over former President Donald Trump’s mental acuity during a campaign event in New Hampshire after he appeared to confuse her with Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi during a recent speech, The Associated Press reported. In responding to Trump’s gaffe, Haley said “we can’t have someone else that we question whether they’re mentally fit to do this,” according to the outlet.

Haley claimed she never said she wanted to cut Social Security benefits or raise the retirement age while speaking with CNN host Dana Bash.

“Prove one thing that they’ve said. Prove the fact that Donald Trump says I want to cut Social Security or raise the [retirement] age. I’ve never said that,” Haley responded.

The claim is misleading, however. In March 2023, CNN reported Haley said she would raise “the retirement age for Americans are currently in their 20s,” citing previous comments she made about the topic on Fox News.

“What you would do is, for those in their 20s coming into the system, we would change the retirement age so that it matches life expectancy,” Haley said during the same Fox News appearance.

“It’s the new ones coming in. It’s those in their 20s that are coming in. You’re coming to them and you’re saying, the game has changed. We’re going to do this completely differently,” she later added. In addition, the outlet referenced a campaign event where Haley indicated it would be “unrealistic to say you’re not going to touch entitlements.”

In an email to Check Your Fact, Graham-Barnes reiterated that Haley’s policies do not apply to seniors or those approaching retirement.

“Nikki Haley has been clear that she does not support cutting social security or raising the retirement age for anyone currently receiving benefits or nearing retirement,” Graham-Barnes said.

Furthermore, in a town hall event held by CNN in Iowa, Haley stressed the importance of entitlement reform, saying, “We can’t keep kicking [the entitlement reform] can down the road. And I know that Trump and DeSantis have both said we’re not going to deal with entitlement reform – well, all you’re doing is leaving it for the next president and that’s leaving a lot of Americans in trouble.” Graham-Barnes directed Check Your Fact to the article.

Similarly, Haley spoke about her plans for changing the retirement age and overhauling Social Security benefits during a campaign event at Saint Anselm College in New Hampshire in September 2023, according to National Review. In discussing changing the retirement age, Haley proposed the idea of potentially raising eligibility requirements to 40 years old as well as “introducing a test to evaluate those in need of such services,” National Review reported.

Bloomberg also reported on Haley’s proposed policies in September 2023, including her planned “overhaul [of] Social Security benefits.” Within that proposed overhaul is a “scaling back [of] payments to higher-income retirees and use [of] an indicator that measures lower inflation levels for cost-of-living increases,” the outlet indicated. (RELATED: Has Nikki Haley Been Disqualified For The Presidency?)

Romina Boccia, director of budget and entitlement policy at the libertarian Cato Institute, said that there are “flawed interpretations” on “what qualifies as a Social Security benefit cut.”

“With increasing life expectancy as Social Security’s age of eligibility has barely budged, adjusting the retirement age to reflect the longer lives that Americans enjoy only makes sense. Over Social Security’s lifespan, life expectancy at birth in the United States has increased by almost 18 years. Yet, Social Security’s full retirement age has increased by only two years (from 65 to 67—to be fully phased in by 2027), and the early retirement age has not budged at all – despite significant improvements in health and lifespan. Even considering only the increase in life expectancy for the population 65 and older of more than 5 years, Social Security is overdue for an age adjustment,” Boccia explained.

“There are also policy changes Congress could make that would merely slow the growth in benefit generosity, without cutting any current benefits. Many on the Left will refer to a reduction in the increase in Social Security’s benefits as a cut. By that definition, any savings in Social Security, even if they do not affect current benefits, are a cut. That doesn’t make much sense. Adopting price indexing, over wage indexing, for initial benefits would preserve current benefits and protect beneficiaries from inflation, while reducing excess benefit cost growth,” she added.

Alternatively, Richard W. Johnson, director of the liberal think tank Urban Institute’s program on retirement policy, highlighted Social Security’s “long-term financing problem.”

“Social Security faces a long-term financing problem. The program currently collects less revenue—primarily from payroll taxes—than it pays in benefits. The shortfall is being made up by drawing down Social Security’s trust fund, which built up over the past four decades when the large Baby Boom generation was working and contributing to Social Security. The Social Security’s trustees project that the trust fund will run out in 2034 unless policymakers increase Social Security’s revenues or cut benefits. If the trust fund runs out in 2034, benefits will have to be cut by between 20 percent and 25 percent, because Social Security’s benefit payments are not allowed to exceed the program’s resources,” John said.

“Given Social Security’s looming financial shortfall, some policymakers—mostly Republicans—have proposed cutting benefits by raising the program’s retirement age. The full retirement age for Social Security is now 67 for people born in 1960 and later. The full retirement age was set at 65 when Social Security was created in 1935, but Congress and President Reagan agreed in 1983 to gradually raise the retirement age to 67, beginning with people turning 62 in 2000. Some policymakers argue that as people live longer, they can now work longer and delay retirement. However, life expectancy has not increased for all groups. Average lifespans have increased for better-educated, higher-income people, but not for less-educated, lower-income people,” Johnson added.

Haley has emphasized that her reforms are aimed at younger Americans only during a March 2023 campaign event in South Carolina, according to The Associated Press.

“We’re not taking it from seniors. We’re not taking it to anyone who’s been promised anything. My parents are in their 80s. I don’t want anybody touching theirs,” Haley said at the event, the outlet indicated. Graham-Barnes also directed Check Your Fact to The Associated Press article.

Likewise, Haley emphasized she would “protect those receiving Social Security and Medicare” while speaking at Saint Anselm College, according to National Review. However, it should be noted that these comments followed an earlier remark made at the same event in which Haley labeled entitlement spending as “unsustainable,” citing the need for reform.

Christine Sellers

Fact Check Reporter