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Brett Arends's ROI

Sept. 24, 2020, 1:47 p.m. EDT

Does Donald Trump have a plan to save Social Security? If so, he should tell voters what it is

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By Brett Arends

What is President Donald Trump’s plan to save Social Security? Does he have one? If so, what is it?

I’ve been trying to find out for nearly two weeks, but with everything going on neither the campaign nor the White House has been able to give me a solid answer so far.

It’s not ideal, really.

Our national retirement program could start running out of money as early as a decade from now . Yes, really. Social Security was already due to start paying out more this year than it took in. The Trustees were formally predicting insolvency around 2035. And that was before the coronavirus crisis and lockdowns struck.

The Congressional Budget Office warn s that the Social Security trust funds may become insolvent as early as 2031.

“The total reduction in annual benefits necessary for the trust funds’ outlays to match their revenues in each year after the OASDI trust funds were exhausted would be about 25 percent in 2032 and would rise to about 31 percent in 2050,” it says. 

Yikes.

By early next decade about 80 million senior Americans — nearly one quarter of the entire country — will be living on Social Security payments. For most of them, that will be their main source of income. For many, it will be their only source of income.

And unless something changes, and soon, they’ll be looking at a 25% across the board cut in monthly payments — from an average monthly check of $1,500 to just $1,200. Good luck with that.

This isn’t me saying this. It’s the CBO. It’s the Social Security Administration’s trustees , led by president Trump’s Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin. It’s the Congressional Research Service.

Among the main presidential candidates, Democrat Joe Biden has said what he’ll do. He says he won’t cut benefits (he actually has plans to increase them, for the very old and for the lowest earners). Instead, he’ll raise taxes on incomes over $400,000 a year to ensure the checks keep going out.

But I can’t find out what President Trump’s plan is to save it, or if he even has one.

I asked Trump’s campaign more than 10 days ago. They replied (mostly) by attacking Joe Biden. Fair enough. But that doesn’t really help retirees and would-be retirees. They added that, “President Trump has spent his presidency preserving Social Security and strengthening Medicare,” that “President Trump…is protecting benefits by fighting to rebuild our economy, restore jobs, and ultimately deliver the Great American Comeback,” and that in his second term he would “Protect Social Security and Medicare.”

But what does that mean? Does it just mean Social Security benefits won’t be cut in the next four years? No one was really expecting them to be. The trust fund’s insolvency is about a decade away. Or does it mean he’ll refuse to sign any bill cutting future benefits? PolitiFact argues it’s only happenstance that Trump hasn’t signed Social Security benefit cuts into law so far.

The campaign has referred me to the White House press office, who in turn included the Office of Management and Budget.

Social Security is paying out way more than it is taking in each year. There are only two solutions: Raise taxes or cut benefits. (Or, I suppose, the third solution, which is to rely on Magic Monetary Theory, and borrow and print the money.)

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