The BDN Opinion section operates independently and does not set newsroom policies or contribute to reporting or editing articles elsewhere in the newspaper or on bangordailynews.com.
Donald Trump is famous for saying the quiet part out loud. In his Saturday press conference, he said the quiet part about Social Security out loud for all of us to hear.
Conservative elites talk in vague terms about “starving the beast.” They imply that the “beast” is the federal government, but that has always rung hollow. Despite their rhetoric, right-wingers are fine with a large and intrusive government. They support massive spending on the military. They support government regulation of women’s ability to control their own bodies. They are fine with federal, state and local authorities conducting an expensive, intrusive and racist war on drugs.
It turns out that “the beast” they want to “starve” is Social Security, which they pejoratively call an entitlement. That’s supposed to be the quiet part: Trump and his fellow Republican elites want to “terminate” Social Security’s dedicated revenue, “starve” the “beast” to death.
By saying he intends to “eliminate the (payroll) tax” — a notion seconded by his legal adviser — Trump made crystal clear that if reelected, the “swamp” he plans to drain is Social Security’s trust funds. He would permanently end payroll contributions, which have funded Social Security from the beginning. Those funds have an accumulated reserve of $2.9 trillion, and, but for Trump, would hold all future dedicated revenue used to pay future benefits.
That revenue is not the government’s. It is held in trust for America’s working families. Like all beneficiaries of trusts, we are the beneficial owners.
Make no mistake: Terminating Social Security’s dedicated revenue will terminate Social Security. If Trump is reelected in November and makes good on his promise, Social Security will be gone. The $2.9 trillion reserve will be spent before the end of 2023 and, with no revenue coming in, benefits will stop. Even if Congressional Democrats pass legislation to rescind Trump’s destructive and unconstitutional power grab, they won’t have sufficient votes to override his veto.
Trump likes to call Social Security’s dedicated revenue “payroll taxes” to obscure what he is doing.
But those payments are different from income taxes, which can be used for any constitutional purpose Congress chooses. Social Security’s revenue can only be used for our benefits and the associated administrative costs.
Rather than calling them “payroll taxes,” they are more accurately called insurance contributions or, in more modern parlance, premiums. That is precisely why the statute mandating these payments is titled the Federal Insurance Contributions Act. It is noteworthy that this was its name in 1939, when legislation was accurately named, decades before the era of Madison Avenue bill titles and acronyms.
Working families pay those premiums, as soon as they begin to draw paychecks, for insurance against the loss of those wages in the event of death, disability or old age. Social Security insurance is strikingly superior to what can be purchased on the private market. In the words of President Franklin Roosevelt, Social Security is “far more favorable … than any policy that any private insurance company could afford to issue.”
Social Security’s one shortcoming, in fact, is that its benefits are too low. An expanded Social Security is completely affordable. Democrats in the House of Representatives have a plan to expand benefits while bringing in enough revenue to fully fund all current and expanded benefits for the next 75 years and beyond.
The Republicans have refused to say what their plan is. Now, thanks to Trump’s willingness to say the quiet part out loud and Mitch McConnell’s willingness to support him, we know exactly what it is: End Social Security.
According to the most recent trustees report, issued on April 22, Social Security is 91 percent funded for the next 25 years, 85 percent funded over the next 50 years, and 82 percent funded over the next 75 years. Under the Democratic plan, it will be 100% funded for the next 75 years and beyond. Under the Republican plan, it will be zero percent funded within just a few years.
Donald Trump has declared open war against every current and future Social Security beneficiary. One could generously attribute avoidable COVID deaths, primarily of seniors and people with disabilities, to incompetence. But the war on our economic security is not open to such a generous interpretation. It is intentional.
Nancy Altman is president of Social Security Works and chair of the Strengthen Social Security coalition. This column was originally published by the New York Daily News. The BDN publishes opinions from partner news services to bring a wider variety of perspectives to readers.