Trump vs. Biden: Checking the Facts

Aug 25, 2020 / Amanda Chase, Horsesmouth Assistant Editor

Recently President Donald Trump and his Democratic opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden, have accused each other of supporting cuts to Social Security. These claims require context. There’s disagreement as to what extent Trump’s executive action will diminish Social Security funds, and Trump’s claims to pay for his proposed payroll tax cut through economic growth strike many as unrealistic. Meanwhile, Biden has supported spending freezes and cost-of-living adjustment reductions as well as budget protections for Social Security over his long career in the Senate, but his current proposals aim to protect and expand it.

On August 8, Trump signed an executive action to temporarily suspend the payroll tax for many employees. It also leaves open the possibility of forgiving the deferred tax down the road. Critics argue that this would essentially defund Social Security and Medicare because they are both primarily financed by the tax. Others say the temporary pause won’t have a significant effect on Social Security benefits because the President alone can’t reduce payroll taxes, which would require action from Congress.

During a press briefing on August 12, Trump outlined what he would seek to do if reelected. “At the end of the year, with the assumption that I win,” Trump said, “I’m going to terminate the payroll tax.” He went on to say that Social Security would be paid for through the General Fund. Only Congress can terminate the payroll tax and it’s unclear, with the House controlled by Democrats and the difficulty of rallying Senate Republicans behind such a proposal, how Trump would get rid of the tax by the end of the year.

In his long political career, Biden has supported many different actions on the entitlement program, including a temporary freeze on spending, budget protections and reducing the cost-of-living adjustment. Biden supported a 7% increase in monthly Social Security benefits in 1973, and in 1995, he supported an amendment to prevent Social Security cuts from being in any balanced budget legislation. In 1996, Biden suggested a few ways to help prevent future insolvency of the program, like raising the retirement age by one year and reducing the cost-of-living adjustment by 1%.

The presumptive Democratic nominee’s current plan aims to protect and expand Social Security. The plan includes a “true minimum benefit” for those who have worked 30 years, providing them a benefit of at least 125% of the poverty level. According to Market Watch, this could increase Social Security and Social Security Income benefits by $6,500 a year for the poorest retirees. The plan would also “provide a higher benefit for the oldest Americans” and “protect widows and widowers from steep cuts in benefits” among other things. The plan also includes adding the employer/employee combined 12.4% Social Security payroll tax to earnings above $400,000.

You can find this CNN article here.


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