No Money in the Social Security Trust Fund

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By on February 22, 2010 in Retirement with 0 Comments

The raiding of the Social Security trust fund became a major issue during the 2000 presidential election campaign. Al Gore introduced the issue when he proposed the “Social Security Lockbox” during his acceptance speech, but it wasn’t long before George W. Bush was also promising to protect the Social Security surplus revenue.

During a speech at Rancho Cucamonga, California on May 15, 2000, Bush said, “Social Security is the single most successful program in government history…For years, politicians have dipped into the trust fund to pay for more spending. And I will stop it.”

The previous raiding of the trust fund by Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton was despicable. However, at that time, the issue had never been subjected to a public debate where the American people could speak out on it. That all changed as a result of the 2000 campaign and election.

Every American who cast a vote for either Bush or Gore had a right to expect that the era of raiding the Social Security trust fund was over. They had entered into a new covenant with the would-be future President of the United States, in which it was mutually agreed that all future surplus Social Security revenue would be untouchable for any purpose other than the payment of Social Security benefits.

Bush continued to sing the same tune once he became President. He continued to insist that Social Security revenue would be used only for Social Security. In his first State of the Union address on February 3, 2001, Bush said, “To make sure the retirement savings of America’s seniors are not diverted in any other program, my budget protects all $2.6 trillion of the Social Security surplus for Social Security, and for Social Security alone.” Four days later, Bush said, “We’re going to keep the promise of Social Security and keep the government from raiding the Social Security surplus.”

Because of all the rhetoric and news coverage of the Social Security trust fund issue during the campaign, and in the early months of the George W. Bush presidency, the American people came to believe that the Social Security trust fund was no longer being raided. But nothing changed with the inauguration of George W. Bush. Despite his pledge to protect the Social Security money, Bush spent every dime of Social Security surplus revenue that came in during his presidency. He used it to fund his big tax cuts for the rich, and much of it was spent on wars.

The news media had given extensive coverage to the Social Security debate in the 2000 election campaign, and to President Bush’s early promises to not raid the trust fund. However, Bush’s failure to honor his promises, with regard to Social Security, just never seemed to get much news coverage, leaving most Americans to believe that the raiding of the trust fund ended after George W. Bush took office. On the contrary, Bush raided and spent a total of $1.37 trillion of Social Security surplus during his eight years as president. In his last year, he spent $192.2 billion, which averages out to more than $526 million per day.

During a speech on April 5, 2005 in Parkersburg, West Virginia, Bush openly admitted to the fact that all of the Social Security surplus revenue had been spent. He said, “There is no trust fund, just IOUs that I saw firsthand that future generations will pay—will pay for either in higher taxes, or reduced benefits, or cuts to other critical government programs.” Bush’s words in this speech bore little resemblance to what he had said about Social Security during the 2000 campaign. But his motives were different in 2005. He was trying to sell his privatization plan, and he thought that by spilling the truth he might further his effort to privatize Social Security.

There would be no Social Security funding problem for at least the next 25 years, if the government had not raided the trust fund. If the trust fund held the $2.5 trillion of surplus Social Security revenue, in the form of real marketable bonds, as it should, it could continue to pay full Social Security benefits until at least 2037. So the obvious solution is for the government to make arrangements to repay the $2.5 trillion it owes to the trust fund.

© 2020 Allen W. Smith, Ph.D.. All rights reserved. This article may not be reproduced without express written consent from Allen W. Smith, Ph.D..


About the Author

Allen W. Smith was a professor of economics at Eastern Illinois University for 30 years.