The Social Security myths you should know before the midterms

By: Philip Moeller

Understanding how Social Security works is especially important as we approach November’s midterm elections. President Donald Trump said during his campaign that he would protect Social Security and Medicare. But he has done little to fulfill that promise since taking office.


A Republican-controlled Congress approved his trillion-dollar tax cut last year, and the predictable increase in federal deficits that has ensued has prompted some Republican leaders to say we can no longer afford to pay for the government’s major social programs – Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.


Proposing cuts to any of these programs is hardly a winning campaign strategy, so don’t expect Republican candidates to say much about it over the next couple of months. But many Democrats will bring it up, arguing that the party needs to regain control of at least one chamber of Congress to prevent Republicans from weakening the nation’s social safety net.

Claiming that Social Security adds to the federal deficit or that Washington somehow has squandered Social Security funds has long been part of the political rhetoric about the program. Do you remember Al Gore’s tortured “lock box” defense of the program during the 2000 presidential campaign?


The reality, however, has always been much different. There are two Social Security trust funds, one for retirement payments and the other for disability benefits. Worker payroll taxes are allocated among the two funds. The disability fund sometimes has been in worse financial shape than its larger retirement sibling, and Congress has stepped in to divert money from the larger fund to shore up the disability fund. However, these monies always have stayed “within the family,” funding benefits to Social Security beneficiaries.


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