Social Security Demagoguery
Without reform, Social Security will shortchange seniors and defraud younger workers.
According to the 2022 annual report of the Social Security Board of Trustees, the surplus in the alleged “trust funds” that disburse retirement, disability and other Social Security benefits will be depleted by 2035.
Younger workers need not be actuaries or accountants to know that, unless reformed, the Social Security for which they are being taxed will not be available to them upon retirement.
It didn’t have to be that way.
In 2009, then-President Barack Obama named Clinton White House staffer Erskine Bowles and former Republican senator Alan Simpson to co-chair a bipartisan commission to address the federal budget deficit and the coming crisis in entitlement costs. The commission announced proposals to limit the national debt to a more manageable level and significantly cut the budget deficit.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi immediately declared the Bowles-Simpson Plan “simply unacceptable.” She and her caucus opposed the modest modifications to Social Security the commission suggested: increasing the retirement age and reducing benefits for higher earners.
Pelosi and her colleagues had far more principled company, though, in opposing a change to make Social Security more progressive by targeting the neediest qualifying recipients.
Means-testing Social Security would turn a program designed as an individual tax-funded social safety net into a welfare plan. Many proud seniors who might qualify under proposed guidelines, but were never on welfare, objected to a means-based formula for being “awarded” a benefit they were taxed to receive.
Democrats have been playing games with Social Security for decades, both by politicizing the issue and misusing its assets.
During every national election campaign season, the Democrats’ default setting for going negative includes the charge that Republicans will destroy Social Security. And Democrats are especially desperate this year.
They would have voters believe that sinister Republicans are willing to sacrifice the welfare and futures of their own friends and loved ones for some ambiguous political benefit. Democrats have played the Social Security card so many times over so many years that it’s no longer trump.
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, a Democrat icon, is credited, fairly or not, with benefitting generations of American seniors by enacting Social Security. It makes no difference what one thinks of the wisdom or current effectiveness of the Social Security System, it’s become an American institution.
Roosevelt’s ideological heirs in the modern party will not be remembered as kindly. Washington Democrats are the only identifiable group of politicians who have actually damaged the Social Security safety net they claim to defend.
The Democrats’ Social Security legacy includes:
- Democrat President Lyndon Johnson and a Democrat-controlled House and Senate took Social Security from the independent “Trust Fund” and put FICA payroll tax receipts into the general fund, allowing Congress to spend it on other “stuff,” while leaving American seniors drawers-full of IOUs.
- Democrat President Jimmy Carter and congressional Democrats voted to give Social Security annuity payments to immigrants who had not paid into the system.
- In 1993, a Democrat-controlled Congress, with Vice President Al Gore casting the tie-breaking Senate vote, began taxing Social Security annuities as part of one of the largest tax increases in American history. The tax bill was signed by Democrat President Bill Clinton.
So, after violating the original Social Security contract with Americans, adding unvested recipients and double-taxing benefits prepaid through payroll taxes, Democrats expect Americans to believe that Republicans will take away seniors’ Social Security.
It would be laughable if the allegation weren’t so patently dishonest.
Frankly, it’s difficult to imagine how Republicans could do more damage to Social Security than the Democrats have already done.
The opportunities for career politicians to create lasting positive legacies are limited, because political careerists don’t invent or produce useful products, provide commercial services, create wealth (other than their own), or contribute in meaningful ways to America’s economy. So, if they wish history to be kind to them, if they want to be remembered for finding a lasting solution to a serious problem rather than merely for self-serving demagoguery, congressional Democrats have a chance to make things right.
During the handful of remaining months in which they will still hold congressional majorities, Washington Democrats could launch a serious attempt to solve the Social Security crisis.
Spoiler alert: they won’t. Democrats prefer demagoguery. It’s easier and more politically useful.