I’m writing a series of posts as a blogging fellow for the Strengthen Social Security Campaign, a coalition of more than 270 national and state organizations.
Here’s what they say:
Some senior Democrats are claiming that Social Security does not contribute “one penny” to the federal deficit. That’s not true. The fact is, the federal government had to borrow $37 billion last year to finance Social Security, and will need to borrow more this year. The red ink is projected to total well over half a trillion dollars in the coming decade.
A key tell is given away a bit later, and it explains why they are wrong:
Social Security has passed a tipping point. For years it generated more revenue than it consumed, holding down the overall federal deficit and allowing Congress to spend more freely for other things. But those days are gone.
Social Security did pay for itself during this time period, but bipartisan Washingtonians took the surplus that would’ve paid out anything that is being borrowed from elsewhere to pay for it now and spent that money on other things. Social Security surpluses weren’t supposed to “allow Congress to spend more freely for other things,” they were supposed to make sure that the program is solvent when there are changes in the economy and makeup of the recipient pool. Congress took that money and wasted it elsewhere, that’s why other money is necessary to cover some of the costs now and, more importantly, in years to come. Politifact decides to let Congress slide on this particular issue and, in doing so, undercuts a key defense of the program — that if left alone or put in the “lockbox” Al Gore suggested, the program would be in great shape. It’s still in good shape, but it would’ve been even better if it wasn’t for Congress and the president taking the money and using it elsewhere as part of their tax cut fervor that began in 1994.
FactCheck does correctly point out that the “payroll tax holiday” is a factor that makes this situation worse, but then they make their analysis falls apart again shortly after. Under a section labeled “Facts vs. Spin,” they say this:
But as we’ve seen, the president’s statement doesn’t back up what Durbin said, and Lew chose his words carefully in his USA Today article. We agree with Lew that Social Security does not “cause our deficits,” at least not by itself.
The word “cause” here is past tense. That would mean that previous deficits would have to, in some way, have been contributed to by Social Security shortfalls. They only provide evidence, though, that the shortfall in Social Security added to the deficit in 2010, in the amount of $37 billion. There is a projection for slightly more ($45 billion) in 2011, but that hasn’t happened yet, so, by their data, Social Security added to one deficit, 2010, and may add to more, so saying that Social Security in any way “causes” our deficits, even in part, doesn’t match up with the data. The suggestion that $37 billion out of a $1.3 trillion dollar deficit is somehow a cause of the deficit is akin to saying that the fact that I had to file for bankruptcy last year was caused by that extra cheeseburger I bought at McDonald’s last year. While it technically adds to the overall total, it’s far from a cause and it’s intellectually dishonest to suggest that it is part of the cause.
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