SAY IT AGAIN! I DARE YOU! I DOUBLE-DOG DARE YOU!
SAY SOCIAL SECURITY IS BROKE ONE MORE TIME!
As good an actor as Samuel L. Jackson is, even he couldn't properly articulate the anger I feel when people talk about Social Security as if it is some massive waste, leeching funds from the federal government. And the problem has only gotten worse with all the talk about the upcoming fiscal cliff.
For whatever reason, it recently became politically acceptable to disparage Social Security. In a debate between Republican presidential primary candidates in 2012, Texas Gov. Rick Perry famously called it a Ponzi Scheme. I don't think it's any coincidence that the guy who took issue with that claim became the Republican candidate.
Now there's no question that Social Security makes up a big chunk of the federal budget. According to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, it accounted for $731 billion in 2011, or about 20 percent of all federal revenue. In fact, it was slightly more than what we spent on defense and international security assistance.
But to say Social Security faces the same funding issues as Medicaid is warped — even for the conservative echo chamber.
In 1983, Social Security began taking in more taxes than it needed to pay out benefits. The hike — from Ronald Reagan of all people — was sold as a way to prepay for the Baby Boomers’ retirement. Since the program began running a surplus, lawmakers have taken the extra money and invested it into federal bonds.
By the end of 2011, the Social Security Trust Fund — basically the amount of money the federal government owes the program — sat at $2.7 trillion. It's expected to peak at $3 trillion in 2021. After that, the surplus will start decreasing and continue to do so until 2033. Once that happens, taxes will have to increase or benefits will have to be reduced by 25 percent.
I'm certainly not saying folks receiving Social Security benefits should just make due with 25 percent less starting in 2033. Federal lawmakers should definitely start looking at ways to strengthen the program. For example, Congress considered a proposal to eliminate the cap on taxable Social Security Wages in 2009, which was at $106,800 that year.
According to the Tax Policy Center, eliminating the threshold would have generated $182 billion for 2010.
There's probably a thousand different ways Social Security could be tweaked to make it sustainable. And lawmakers could even wait until 2033 to make those changes, and the program wouldn't have contributed one cent to the national debt.
In 2011 alone, Social Security kept 20 million people from poverty. A program like that deserves some honesty from pundits.
Daniel Gaddy is a staff reporter for the Daily Mountain Eagle and a Walker County native. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org