Most Americans have come to expect politicians to bend the truth, exaggerate the truth, and withhold part of the truth. But what about a high profile political leader who tells a whopper, that he knows to be untrue, especially when this whopper is designed to fool all Americans, not just his own constituents? That is exactly what Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid, did in an interview with NBC’s David Gregory on “Meet the Press,” on Sunday January 9.
In response to a question about Social Security, Senator Reid said, “it’s fully funded for the next forty years.” Now, I have been a long-time admirer and supporter of Harry Reid ever since he took a strong stand to end the looting of the Social Security trust fund 20 years ago, but I cannot condone such a big lie, which adds to the confusion about the true status of Social Security.
In 1990, Reid, along with a few other senators, was trying to protect the future of Social Security by telling the truth about it. In a speech on the Senate floor, on October 9, 1990, Senator Reid made the following statement:
The discussion is are we as a country violating a trust by spending Social Security trust fund money’s for some purpose other than for which they were intended. The obvious answer is yes…On that chart in emblazoned red letters is what has been taking place here, embezzlement. During the period of growth we have had during the past 10 years, the growth has been from two sources. One, a large credit card with no limits on it, and, two, we have been stealing money from the Social Security recipients of this country.
Senator Reid was right in denouncing the raiding of the trust fund in 1990, but he didn’t follow through with his battle. Once he got into a leadership position, he abandoned his fight to end the looting and just ignored the illegal practice after that. The practice, which Reid described as “embezzlement” in 1990, has continued, unchanged, to this very day. Every dollar of the $2.5 trillion in surplus Social Security revenue, generated by the 1983 payroll tax hike, has been looted and spent on such things as tax cuts for the rich, two wars and other government programs.
Enough surplus Social Security revenue has been generated, by the 1983 payroll tax hike, to fund the payment of full Social Security benefits until 2037. But none of the surplus revenue was saved or invested in anything. It was all spent and replaced with IOUs that are nothing more than claims against future tax collections. Since the government has made no provisions to repay any of the $2.5 trillion, there is no way that Senator Reid can accurately say that Social Security “is fully funded for the next forty years.”
Beginning in 2015, the cost of Social Security benefit payments will be greater than the payroll tax revenue, and the gap between revenue and benefit costs will get bigger and bigger with each passing year. ]
The government’s $2.5 trillion debt to Social Security is the real reason that so many politicians want to cut benefits. They are trying to find a way to avoid having to repay the looted money. I agree with Senator Reid’s contention that Social Security benefits should not be cut, but, instead of lying, he should be telling the truth about the looting, and demanding that the money be repaid.
It is time for Senator Reid, President Obama, and all others who are participating in the Social Security debate, to lay the truth on the line before continuing with the debate. The basic, indisputable truth is that, although the 1983 payroll tax hike has generated enough surplus revenue to fund full Social Security benefits until 2037, that money has already been spent and is not now available for paying benefits. The $2.5 trillion in surplus revenue is a legitimate debt that the government should repay, but no provisions have been made for the repayment of any of the money. This means that the government will have to 1) raise taxes, 2) reduce spending on other government programs, or 3) borrow the money from someone else in order to replace the looted Social Security money.
Given the fact that the national debt has skyrocketed from $1 trillion in 1981 to almost $14 trillion today, I think borrowing should be ruled out as an option for repaying the money. Also, I don’t believe that it would be possible for members of Congress to agree to cut enough spending from other programs to replace the Social Security money. If I am correct on these two points, that leaves raising taxes as the only viable option for repaying the money.
Given the fact that much of the surplus revenue from the 1983 payroll tax hike ended up in the pockets of the super rich in the form of income tax cuts, I propose a special tax on this group of taxpayers to recoup the missing Social Security money. The government used revenue from the Social Security payroll tax hike to fund tax cuts for the rich because that was where the money was. I think the government should recover the “embezzled” money by taxing the rich.
The tax increase could be phased in gradually as the money was needed to pay benefits. Just as it has taken 25 years for the government to “embezzle” the $2.5 trillion, the money could be repaid in installments over the next 25 years. This would be a fair and economically sound way to undo the terrible wrong that has been done to the baby boomers, who have contributed more to Social Security than any other generation. All previous generations had been required to pay only the cost of the previous generation’s benefits. However, the 1983 Social Security legislation required the baby boomers to prepay the cost of their own benefits, in addition to paying for the benefits of their parents’ generation. The extra Social Security tax that the boomers were required to pay, by the 1983 legislation, has been taken from the boomers and given to the rich. It is time to rectify that wrong.
We can be sure that the rich, who would have to pay the higher tax to fund the repayment of the Social Security money, will fight any such legislation with every weapon at their disposal. But they are a small percentage of the voting public. By contrast, Social Security directly or indirectly affects most Americans. If those who truly care about the future of Social Security would organize and exert their full political powers, such legislation could be enacted, and Social Security could be made whole again.
One of the primary reasons that the Social Security trust fund today holds no real economic assets with which to pay benefits to the baby boomers is the fact that much of the money was used to fund tax cuts for the rich. Since the rich got money that rightly belongs to Social Security taxpayers, why not use the political system to transfer that money from the rich back into the coffers of the Social Security trust fund? Think about it.