Opinion

David Cay Johnston

Social Security is not going broke

David Cay Johnston
May 4, 2012 17:14 UTC

Which federal program took in more than it spent last year, added $95 billion to its surplus and lifted 20 million Americans of all ages out of poverty?

Why, Social Security, of course, which ended 2011 with a $2.7 trillion surplus.

That surplus is almost twice the $1.4 trillion collected in personal and corporate income taxes last year. And it is projected to go on growing until 2021, the year the youngest Baby Boomers turn 67 and qualify for full old-age benefits.

So why all the talk about Social Security “going broke?” That theme filled the news after release of the latest annual report of the Federal Old-Age and Survivors Insurance and Federal Disability Insurance Trust Funds, as Social Security is formally called.

The reason is that the people who want to kill Social Security have for years worked hard to persuade the young that the Social Security taxes they pay to support today’s gray hairs will do nothing for them when their own hair turns gray.

That narrative has become the conventional wisdom because it is easily reduced to a headline or sound bite. The facts, which require more nuance and detail, show that, with a few fixes, Social Security can be safe for as long as we want.

More for the rich

David Cay Johnston
Sep 20, 2011 13:42 UTC

By David Cay Johnston
The views expressed are his own.

President Barack Obama this week started pitching his plan to cut U. S. taxes for everyone in 2012 and then in 2013 raise income tax rates for high earners, primarily those making more than $1 million, many of whom bear a lighter burden than a cop married to a nurse.

Two responses are certain.

There will be claims that economic ruin will follow once taxes go up. Never mind the proposed 2012 tax cuts are for virtually everyone. Never mind that the modest rate hikes would apply only to those who make more than 97 percent of their fellow Americans with most of the burden on those making more than $1 million. Never mind IRS data showing that tens of thousands of those whose increased taxes would increase their income tax rate by just 1.2 percentage points make more in a year than the median family earns in a lifetime.

Obama has also set a clever trap for anti-tax Republicans. Obama’s American Jobs Act would lower Social Security taxes for all workers and for all businesses in 2012. Republicans who vote against the bill would be voting against a tax cut. They would also be voting against a huge business tax break, letting business immediately write off all capital investments made in 2012.

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