President Biden has inherited a Social Security program that is on a weaker footing than when Donald Trump took office. But the new President has pledged to strengthen and expand the program – both by working with Congress and through executive action. In fact, President Biden is well positioned to safeguard one of the landmark achievements of one of his most prominent Democratic predecessors, Franklin D. Roosevelt, whose son, Congressman James Roosevelt, Sr., founded our organization.
“Joe Biden has a record over four decades of being a strong supporter of Social Security. He was a strong voice in the Senate for the needs of seniors and it’s clear that the proposals that Biden and Harris are offering demonstrate a clear understanding of American seniors’ needs.” – James Roosevelt, Jr., vice-chair, National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare advisory board
As if Americans needed a reminder of how crucial Social Security is, the pandemic – which disproportionately impacted seniors – has underlined its importance. Social Security is there for eligible older workers who lose their jobs or are forced to retire early by sickness or disability. It is there as a financial lifeline for retirees, who face higher medical expenses or loss of other income during the pandemic. It is there for families of workers when they become disabled, or pass away.
Despite promising to protect the program, former President Trump proposed slashing Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) by tens of billions of dollars in each of his annual budgets. The administration issued new rules erecting obstacles for disabled workers seeking to claim or retain benefits. The Social Security Administration even tried to politicize the adjudication of SSDI cases. The Biden administration will try to roll back these pernicious rules, but it may be a long and complex process.
The Trump administration issued rules making it harder for disabled workers to collect Social Security
Last August, President Trump interfered with Social Security’s main funding stream by issuing a reckless executive order deferring workers’ Social Security payroll taxes. Not only was the order economically ineffective; those workers (mostly federal employees) must now repay those deferred payroll taxes. In pursuing this policy, Trump tampered with the “earned benefit” nature of Social Security, which is funded by the payroll taxes that Americans contribute during their working lives.
Trump and Congressional Republicans failed to embrace commonsense proposals to increase Social Security’s revenue (without benefit cuts), setting the program on a sound financial course for the future. Before the pandemic, Social Security’s trust fund was projected to become exhausted by 2035, if Congress takes no pre-emptive action. Now, the COVID recession may hasten the trust funds’ insolvency date.
Conservatives remain fixated on the false assumption that Social Security drives the federal debt, and even proposed cutting ‘entitlements’ after enacting the 2017 tax windfall for the wealthy and big corporations, which swelled the deficit by some $2 trillion. The conservatives’ solution for “reforming” Social Security is to slash benefits for future seniors, who will rely on their benefits more than previous generations.
Rep. John Larson’s Social Security 2100 Act overlaps with many of President Biden’s proposals
We endorsed President Biden because of his commitment to seniors and their earned benefits. During the campaign, he called Social Security and Medicare “sacred obligations” and offered a commonsense list of Social Security proposals which the National Committee supports, including:
*Adjusting the Social Security payroll wage cap so that the wealthy pay their fair share.
*Providing the oldest beneficiaries – those who have been receiving retirement benefits for at least 20 years– with a higher monthly check.
*Giving eligible workers a guaranteed minimum benefit equal to at least 125% of the federal poverty level.
*Raising monthly benefits for widows and widowers by some 20%.
There is significant overlap between President Biden’s proposals and Rep. John Larson’s Social Security 2100 Act, which we fully endorse. Passing ambitious Social Security improvements may prove difficult in the Senate, where Democrats hold the slimmest of majorities.
We trust that President Biden and Social Security champions in Congress will continue to fight to strengthen and expand the program, leveraging the energy of seniors and their advocates, including the National Committee’s millions of members and supporters.