Some defenders of Social Security are mistakenly objecting to the tax compromise between President Obama and Republican leaders on the grounds that it threatens the program.
The proposed deal, which must be approved by Congress, would lower the payroll tax for workers by 2 percentage points, from the current level of 6.2 percent. The National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare says this would mark “the beginning of the end of Social Security as we know it.”
Hardly. It makes no sense to view Social Security as a program entirely separate from the government’s general budget. Payroll taxes are supposedly earmarked for Social Security, but Congress has been tapping this revenue stream for years, while handing out IOUs — “special issue” Treasury bonds — to the Social Security Trust Fund.
A lot of people speak of those IOUs as if they can be pulled out and exchanged for money to pay for benefit checks. They can’t. As the Clinton administration budget of 2000 explained, the securities in the Trust Fund “do not consist of real economic assets that can be drawn down in the future to fund benefits.”
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