NY Times columnist wrong: Congress Can End Social Security Whenever They Choose

In his January 24 column for The New York Times, "Raising False Alarms," Bob Herbert invoked the patron saint of progressives, FDR:

Franklin Roosevelt couldn't have been clearer about the crucial role of the payroll taxes used to finance Social Security. They gave the beneficiaries a "legal, moral and political right" to collect their benefits, he said. "With those taxes in there, no damn politician can ever scrap my Social Security program."

FDR should have read the bill, as Section 1104 of the Social Security Act of 1935 stipulates that: "The right to alter, amend, or repeal any provision of this Act is hereby reserved to the Congress." Moreover, in Flemming v. Nestor (1960) the Supreme Court "established the principle that entitlement to Social Security benefits is not contractual right." (Emphases added.) In delivering the Court's opinion, Justice Harlan wrote: 

to engraft upon the social security system a concept of "accrued property rights" would deprive it of the flexibility and boldness in adjustment to ever-changing conditions which it demands. [...] we must conclude that a person covered by the act has not such a right in benefit payments...

What this means is that payroll taxpayers have no right to Social Security benefits whatsoever; they are owed nothing; they have no contractual rights, no ownership -- and no recourse should Congress end the program.

Perhaps Mr. Herbert's editors could "engraft" a little research onto old Bob. But wait, I forgot, there are no editors at The New York Times.

Jon N. Hall is a programmer/analyst from Kansas City


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