Social Security Is Not the Problem

FILE - In this July 14, 2011 file photo, the U.S. flag flies next to the Capitol in Washington, as Congress and the Obama Adm
FILE - In this July 14, 2011 file photo, the U.S. flag flies next to the Capitol in Washington, as Congress and the Obama Administration continue work to raise the debt ceiling. Back in the summer of 2011, as a debt crisis loomed much like one does again today, Obama issued a clear threat to Republicans: Without an agreement to raise the nation’s borrowing limit, older Americans might not get their Social Security checks. He wasn’t the first to issue such a warning in the face of a debt fight between an administration and Congress. The federal government could run out of cash to pay all its bills in full as early as Feb. 15, according to one authoritative estimate, and congressional Republicans want significant spending cuts in exchange for raising the debt ceiling. Obama, forced to negotiate an increase in 2011, has vowed not to negotiate again. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Despite claims to the contrary (by so-called fact checkers), Social Security has not contributed to the debt and the deficits. Because of that indisputable fact, it is shocking that politicians would talk about cutting Social Security as a means to address our national debt.

Social Security has three sources of revenue. The largest share, about 80 percent, is paid by every working American and their employers who contribute 6.2 percent each on wages up to $113,700 a year. The second source is interest earned by the Social Security trust fund, accounting for about 15 percent of total revenue. Finally, Social Security gets about 5 percent of its revenue from the taxes that beneficiaries pay on their Social Security benefits.

Social Security has its own dedicated revenue stream described above. These payroll taxes do not pass through the regular federal budget and, by law, cannot be spent on other programs. If the rest of government borrows from the Social Security Trust Fund, it has to pay the money back -- just like it has to pay back holders of other U.S. Treasury bonds. Social Security itself is forbidden by law from borrowing, so it cannot deficit spend.

It is an indisputable fact that over its lifetime Social Security has collected $15.5 trillion (about $13.5 trillion from workers and their employers and about $1.5 trillion from interest on its investment in Treasury bonds, and $290 billion from taxation of benefits) and only spent $12.8 trillion. Hey AJC, fact check that. It can't be contributing to the debt.

The relationship between Social Security and the debt is clear. President Roosevelt designed it this way to protect workers' retirement savings from Washington's annual budget battles -- or in his words, so that "no damn politician can ever scrap my Social Security program."

Because Social Security has not contributed to our debt, Americans should be skeptical of any politician who says that benefits Americans have earned must be reduced in order to address our national debt.

Unfortunately, there are those who seek to deliberately mislead the public about Social Security in order to justify cutting benefits as part of a larger anti-government agenda.

Now is the right time for a discussion about the deficit and debt, but Social Security does not contribute to either, and so cuts to the program should be off the table. Any discussion of Social Security's finances should take place separately from discussions of the federal debt.

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, "without Social Security benefits, more than 40 percent of Americans aged 65 and older would have incomes below the federal poverty line".

And, according to the 2011 census, Social Security lifts 21.4 million Americans out of poverty, including 379,000 Georgians.

I agree with President Roosevelt and generations since, that American seniors deserve better than poverty.

That is why we must protect and strengthen the program, not use the debt as an excuse to fulfill a dangerous obsession with cutting government regardless of the merits of the cut.

Social Security is not just another government spending program. It is a promise from generation to generation.

The federal government has once again reached the debt ceiling and Congressional Republicans are once again threatening to let the United States default on its debt unless the president will agree to draconian cuts, including cuts to Social Security.

Let me be clear -- cutting Social Security will have no impact on whether the United States reaches the debt limit.

I stand with the millions of seniors and working people who depend on Social Security and who expect the money they put in to be there for them when they retire.

We can address the debt in a balanced way and, separately, we can make bipartisan changes to Social Security that would make President Roosevelt and our seniors proud.

I will work with any Congressperson to get this done.

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