National Public Radio
Text from National Public Radio, Morning Edition
September 11, 2001
Social Security—Where do they put our money?
by Russell Roberts
What do you think of when you hear the phrase "raid Social Security?" I see an elderly person, maybe a nice white-haired Grandma about to take a spoonful of soup on a cold winter night. Suddenly, someone grabs the sweet old thing's wrist in mid-slurp. "Sorry, Ma'am, but we need these resources somewhere else in the economy." The bowl is whisked away and elderly Americans everywhere go to bed hungry.
Too dramatic? Then what could it mean to "raid Social Security?" Surely it means less money for the current elderly or at the very least for baby boomers approaching retirement age. Maybe twelve billion less.
The President pledged during the campaign to leave that money in the Social Security Trust Fund. The Democrats say he's breaking that promise. Even the President's budget director, Mitch Daniels, says we could use as much as 12 billion from the Social Security Trust Fund for general government expenditures this year, if the economy doesn't hold up.
When I hear the phrase, "Social Security Trust Fund" I think of an account in a bank, accruing interest over time. Maybe you envision Al Gore's old Lock Box. Alas, that is not how the Social Security Trust Fund works.
Today, because the baby boom generation is hard at work, the government collects more money from Social Security taxes than it pays in Social Security benefits. The promise not to touch this surplus is a lie.
OK, maybe not a lie, but an enormous deception. They claim it's being set aside for Social Security in the Social Security Trust Fund. But the Social Security Trust Fund is not really a trust fund at all. There's no money in it.
As soon as the money enters the Trust Fund it goes out the door at the Treasury Department. The Treasury Department spends it, the same way it spends money collected from the income tax. It then leaves behind an IOU which says that, in the future, the agency will use taxes or bonds to pay back Social Security. The IOU even includes some interest.
That's a lovely promise. But there's no money or real assets backing up that promise. The promise will be enforced in the future with future taxes, just as it would be if the Social Security Trust Fund didn't exist.
Whether the government spends the social security surplus on defense spending, education, or paying down the federal debt, there is no extra money being set aside today for the Social Security recipients of tomorrow.
Both the President and the Democrats should stop engaging in dishonesty. Stop treating us like children. Tell the truth about Social Security. Otherwise we'll have to call it the Social Security DISTrust Fund.