Republicans Are Pushing Myths About Social Security – To Justify Their Demands For Benefit Cuts

[Column by Nancy Altman,] Republican politicians want to cut Social Security. They never say so out loud, but their 2016 platform reveals the truth. In the section labeled, “Saving Social Security,” it proclaims, “As Republicans, we oppose tax increases…” Since Social Security cannot deficit spend and is projecting a shortfall in 2035 if Congress doesn’t act, that only leaves benefit cuts.

Representative John Larson (D-CT), the Chairman of the House of Representatives’ Subcommittee on Social Security, is trying to force his Republican colleagues into the open. Larson is the sponsor of the Social Security 2100 Act, which increases Social Security’s modest benefits. Additionally, it raises enough revenue to ensure that all benefits can be paid in full and on time through the year 2100 and beyond. Ninety percent of the Democrats in the House of Representatives are co-sponsors, but not a single Republican. Given their refusal to back his bill, Rep. Larson has urged Republicans to offer an alternative proposal — to no avail.

Non-action is not an option, unless your goal is to cut Social Security. The most recent Social Security Trustees’ Report projects that with no action, benefits will be automatically reduced by 20 percent in 2035. As Chairman Larson has plainly stated, “The hard truth of the matter is that Republicans want to cut Social Security, and doing nothing achieves their goal.”

Deflecting from their desire to cut Social Security, Republican politicians and their outside advocates have unleashed a barrage of misleading attacks about the 2100 Act and Social Security itself. A recent Heritage Foundation report, for example, attacked the 2100 Act and called for “significantly reducing” benefits of everyone but “those with the greatest need,” falsely claiming that doing so would “return Social Security to its goal of poverty prevention.” (Emphasis added.)

Since this focus on need is a common tactic in today’s debate, it is important to confront it with the truth. The Heritage Foundation is utterly wrong about Social Security’s original goal. What it’s actually describing is the program that Social Security’s conservative opponents have tried to repeal and replace it with from the beginning.

Social Security was designed as wage insurance. Its goal has always been much more expansive than the alleviation of poverty, or even its prevention. The system’s purpose is, and always has been, to replace wages so that people are able to maintain their standards of living in the event of retirement, disability or death.

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