Republicans on Capitol Hill say Donald Trump may be willing to cut Social Security and Medicare if he wins in 2020, reportedly describing the potential move as a “second-term project”. 

Several senators told the New York Times in a report published this week they spoke to the president about reducing the costs of the federal health care and retirement programmes — a move that would likely stir controversy in a presidential election season. 

Republicans have said cutting both programmes is crucial to reducing the nation’s deficit, which has ballooned under Mr Trump thanks, in part, to the GOP tax bill passed in 2017. 

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Senator John Barrasso, a Republican from Wyoming, described the process of cutting the costs of social security and medicare to the New York Times as “best done during divided government”. 

“We’ve brought it up with President Trump,” he added, “who has talked about out it being a second-term project.” 

Senator John Thune, a Republican from South Dakota, also told the newspaper that reducing the costs of the federal programmes would required “presidential leadership” and “courage by the Congress to make some hard votes”.

“We can’t keep kicking the can down the road,” he said, adding: “I hope in a second term, [Mr Trump] is interested. With his leadership, I think we could start dealing with that crisis. And it is a crisis.” 

Mr Trump won in 2016 by claiming, among other things, that he would be able to entirely wipe away the US national debt of more than $19tn (£15.5tn) in an eight-year period. 

He also repeatedly vowed not to make extensive cuts to the popular programmes, even as other Republicans were saying reducing their costs would be crucial to lowering the debt. 

“I’m not going to cut Social Security like every other Republican and I’m not going to cut Medicare or Medicaid,” Mr Trump reportedly said at the time. 

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Senator David Perdue, a Republican from Georgia, told the paper “it probably takes a second-term president” to begin working on the issue, adding: “It’s politically difficult to say you’re going to save Social Security, because most people think, well that means cutting benefits.”

Democrats have also expressed concern over the mounting debt, including Senator Jon Tester, a Democrat from Montana who told the New York Times: “It’s just not financially sustainable at all.”

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