Are Republicans trying to destroy social security?

Following his State of the Union address, President Biden has been on the attack over the GOP's many proposals to reform Social Security.  Before you react to the talking points, you should ask: is there any validity to Biden's concerns?

To even the casual observer, Biden's apprehensions concerning the GOP's Social Security reform proposals appear to ignore one basic fact — and likely the most important one.  There is not a Republican plan or even lone Republican member of Congress pushing reductions to benefits on the scale that Social Security is scheduled to reduce checks going to seniors on its own when the trust fund is exhausted.

That is zero.

In its fact sheet, the Biden administration claims that congressional Republicans have repeatedly tried to privatize Social Security.  In reality, the last time a Republican put forward a plan to privatize Social Security was more than a decade ago. 

The fact is that the last proposal from the GOP scored by the Social Security Administration to overhaul the program's finances was introduced in the waning weeks of the 114th Congress by a retiring congressman.  That was nearly ten years ago.

It is true that some Republican members of Congress have talked about allowing younger workers to keep a portion of their payroll taxes, but none of those lawmakers has gone to the trouble to draft legislation.  So a lot of the concern comes down to semantics: what do you call a plan?

The White House asserts that "Florida Senator Rick Scott is championing a plan to put Social Security on the chopping block every five years."  In fact, Sen. Scott (R-Fla.) offered a plan based on the idea that Congress would do its job.  That plan may not work out, but what the White House labels a "plan" to sunset Social Security is actually a remote possibility.

The Democrats are correct that the Republican Study Committee released a formal budget that would reduce benefits substantially in the future.  The problem is that no one has asked the Social Security Administration to officially determine whether the plan would fully overcome the program's existential threat of insolvency.

Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) did say something like he was going to rip Social Security out by the roots.  Keep in mind that he said that in 2010 and has not attempted to change Social Security since then.  At this point, he does not even list Social Security as an issue on his Senate website.

Ironically, the last person on Earth who should be playing the antiquated quote card is President Biden.  A quote on Social Security reform from 2010 is no more relevant to the subject today than Biden's decision to vote for reductions to benefits for retirees back in 1983.  Lee's quote is no more relevant than Biden's decision to vote to increase the tax on benefits in 1993. 

Keep in mind, Biden's current concern stems from quotes about what a politician might want to do to the program.  On the other hand, Biden's votes as a senator were actually connected to the reduction of benefits paid to seniors. 

Long story short: 2010 was a long time ago, and quotes or votes in Congress have little context in today's discussion.  The passage of time makes the distant past no more relevant today than Stonehenge is to modern architecture. 

To illustrate, a change in 2010 to the normal retirement age of one month every two years would have resolved 44 percent of the problem that the program would face over a 75-year period.  In order to achieve the same efficacy today, Congress would have to increase the retirement age by three months per year until the age for full benefits reached 70 years old — and index it thereafter.

At the same time, it would be unfair to suggest that Republicans are doing more than Democrats to protect Social Security.  Neither party has demonstrated any sense of urgency with the pressing problem at hand.  That problem is that someone turning 76 years old today, on average, expects to outlive full benefits.

Social Security is going to put itself on the chopping block, and the one thing that will not "protect Social Security" is needless delays and political games today.  So dredging the archived news clips about secretive plots to gut Social Security isn't the solution.  It is part of the problem.

Brenton Smith ( is a policy adviser with The Heartland Institute.

Image: SSA.

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