Fact Checking Bernie Sanders on Social Security

By on October 13, 2015 in Current Events with 118 Comments

No one sells integrity harder than soldiers in the army of Bernie Sanders for President.  The New Yorker recently went as far as to question whether Sander’s integrity disqualifies his campaign for President.

Integrity is basically a moral compass which appeals to voters.  Politics loves the virtue because it is normally the difference between an audience hearing and an audience believing. Voters see it as a level of predictability that is absent in a political world where the word “Is” means one thing to the speaker and something different to the listener.

It is of course easy for supporters to claim. It is however much more difficult for Senator Sanders to demonstrate. The perception of integrity forms over years of matching promises with results. This is a problem for Sanders who has been unable to establish that connection in his public face on the issue of Social Security.

His public statements reveal a train wreck of deception, in which the sound bite is more important than the accuracy of it. Our friends at OccupyDemocratics recently released a video that showcases Sanders on Social Security.  It is one-stop shopping for noise about Social Security and the difficulties that it faces.

Image of Bernie Sanders

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders

The video contains six quotes that are close to true, but nothing is 100 percent accurate. Every word is slightly bent, and every fact is missing its fact.  He is the ever subtle undertow of subterfuge for a system on which millions depend.

Six staples of Sanders’ argument that are not quite true.

  1. Social Security is not going broke
    The statement is true of course. Social Security hasn’t completely run out of money, nor will it as long as the system gets dedicated use of payroll taxes. The problem is that no one seriously claims Social Security is going “broke.”  The critics say that it is going “insolvent” – mind you the trustees who are responsible for the safety and soundness of the system agree.
  2. Social Security has a surplus of 2.76 trillion dollars
    Again, the statement is true, but only half true. Sanders is playing a game of left pocket, right pocket, in which the left pocket holds the cash, and the right contains obligations that outweigh the cash by 10 fold. Senator Sanders is pointing to the pocket of cash without telling you that the $2.76 trillion surplus is a reserve against nearly $30 trillion dollars of unfunded liabilities.  Yes Social Security is going insolvent.
  3. “Social Security can pay out benefits to every eligible American for the next 19 years”
    19 years sounds like a long time, but it wasn’t true. At the time of his statement, the latest Trustees Report clearly showed that the Social Security Trust Fund had sufficient reserves to give Social Security roughly a 50/50 chance of paying scheduled benefits over 18 years.On December 15th, 2014, the projection from the Social Security Administration was closer to 18 years.  The Congressional Budget Office projected the exhaustion point was 15 years.  While these figures may sound close, Sanders omits the crucial words – “provided that the economy cooperates.”
  4. “Social Security has not contributed one nickel to our deficit”
    Technically, this is not true.  Senator Sanders actually means that Social Security is not “counted” towards the on-budget measure of the deficit.  That does not mean that Social Security did not contribute to the national deficit. The payroll tax holiday for example created roughly $200 billion in deficit spending between 2011 and 2012. (For more on the meaning of the word “deficit,” see Does Social Security Impact the Federal Deficit)
  5. “Social Security is independently funded.  It does not receive funding from the federal treasury”
    Not true.  Legally, Social Security is not independently funded.  It receives subsidies from the general fund.  By law, P.L 98-21 to be specific, the federal treasury transfers tens of billions of dollars from the general fund to Social Security, mainly the revenue collected on the taxation of benefits. This material is documented in every trustees report.
  6. “Social Security has paid out every nickel owed to every eligible beneficiary”
    The only reason that Social Security has paid out every nickel that it owes is because Social Security can lower what it owes.  In 1983, the system lowered what it owed to millions of Americans. The 1977 amendments created the Notch Babies who believe that they were cheated out of their benefits. Social Security has paid out every nickel that Congress agreed to pay.

© 2016 Brenton Smith. All rights reserved. This article may not be reproduced without express written consent from Brenton Smith.

Tags:

About the Author

Brenton Smith (A.K.A. Joe The Economist) is the founder of “Fix Social Security Now” which provides information on all alternatives in the public debate on Social Security through its site www.FixSSNow.Org.

Top