Fact Sheet Inaccuracies in Washington Posts Halloween Social Security Article

Richard Eskow

A Huffington Post commenter responding to my recent piece on the Washington Post’s recent Social Security article by saying that I “claimed ‘inaccuracies, falsehoods, and downright lies’ but delivered problems of tone, and emphasis.”

Then, and without irony, the commenter links to a ‘fact sheet’ on Social Security from – the Washington Post!

Here’s a fact sheet on those “inaccuracies, falsehoods, and downright lies”- or at least, as many as I could squeeze in here:
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“Social Security is sucking money out of the Treasury.”

False. The Treasury owes the Social Security $2.6 trillion.

“This year, it will add a projected $46 billion to the nation’s budget problems …”

False. It is drawing on its own funds.

“Replacing cash lost to a one-year payroll tax holiday will require another $105 billion.”

False. See Dean Baker for more.

“Social Security is hardly the biggest drain on the budget.”

False. It does not drain the budget at all.

“… Modest change to Social Security …

False. It’s a significant change.

And those are only from the lines I directly quoted. Here are some other falsehoods from the piece:

“The $2.6 trillion Social Security trust fund will provide little relief.”

Are you kidding? It provides $2.6 trillion in relief!

“The government has borrowed every cent and now must raise taxes, cut spending or borrow more heavily from outside investors to keep benefit checks flowing.”

False, false, and false. The government has borrowed from Social Security’s contributors – you and me – to fund its tax cuts for the wealthy and two wars. Since when is repaying a creditor – us – considered spending?

And that comment about benefit checks is a particularly egregious lie. With no changes to the program whatsoever, it will still be able to pay its benefits in full until sometime in the 2030’s, after which it will still be able to pay 75% of its benefits – without taking a single penny from other sources.

“Many Democrats have largely chosen to ignore the shortfall, insisting the program is flush …”

False. All the Democrats and independents defending Social Security acknowledge the long-term shortfall. Many, like Bernie Sanders, advocating making up the difference by lifting the payroll tax cap in some fashion and applying it to higher earners. (That’s the approach recommended by Reagan’s former actuary.)

“Such statements (like Harry Reid’s, that Social Security doesn’t contribute to the deficit) have not been true since at least 2009, when the cost of monthly checks regularly began to exceed payroll tax collections.”

False. Social Security is drawing on its own funds and is not contributing to the deficit.

“The Bowles-Simpson plan would have righted the system’s finances with a combination of payroll tax increases and reductions in scheduled benefits, mainly years down the road. It would have hit upper-income workers …”

False. Their overall plan, heavily skewed toward the right, included tax cuts for the wealthy. And it raised payroll taxes so slowly that it would have taken fifty years to have those taxes apply to 90% in income, as they did decades ago.

Obama “endorsed the panel’s proposal to tie future benefits to a less-generous inflation index.”

Less generous? The current index understates the real increases in living costs for people on Social Security. It isn’t “less generous”- it’s a benefit cut.

“Retirement benefits were available at 65, at a time when life expectancy was significantly lower than today.”

False – and disproven repeatedly. The shorter lifespans in Roosevelt’s day were primarily due to infant and childhood mortality. The life expectancy for working adults is only a few years longer than it was then.

This should get readers started on the topic. They can read Baker’s piece for more.

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