Fact Checking Bernie Sanders on Social Security

Bernie Sanders has made a number of statements about Social Security during his campaign for president, but are they true? The author provides a fact check analysis of some of Sanders’ statements.

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.

es Social Security is going insolvent.

  • “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.”
  • “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)
  • “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.
  • “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.
  • About the Author

    Brenton Smith (A.K.A. Joe The Economist) writes nationally on the issue of Social Security reform with work appearing in Forbes, FedSmith.com, MarketWatch, TheHill.com, and regional media like The Denver Post.