Congressional Corner: The Payroll Tax Cut's Not The Problem - Privatization Is

Congressional Corner: The Payroll Tax Cut’s Not The Problem – Privatization Is

The following does not necessarily reflect the views of The Senior Citizens League.

By Representative Mike Doyle (PA-14)

As Congress returns to work, it begins another debate over the Social Security payroll tax – and with it, a debate over funding for Social Security. Many Americans are asking how an extension of the payroll tax cut would affect the finances of the Social Security Trust Fund. That’s an important question. Keeping Social Security financially strong is essential for protecting current beneficiaries – and for ensuring that Social Security’s guarantee will be there for our children and grandchildren as well.

Federal law requires that any reduction in payroll tax revenues going into the Social Security Trust Fund must be replaced dollar-for-dollar with general revenues from the U.S. Treasury. Consequently, a temporary extension of the payroll tax cut will have no effect on the Social Security Trust Fund.

But while the temporary payroll tax cut won’t affect Social Security’s finances, it also won’t change the need to put the Social Security system’s finances on a sound footing for future generations. Over the last 30 years, proposals have been made to allow future workers to put some of their Social Security contributions into “personal” or “privatized” investment accounts – with the hope of getting more money back than they would get from Social Security as we know it today.

Unlike the temporary payroll tax cuts, which wouldn’t affect Social Security’s finances, the diversion of Social Security contributions into private accounts would substantially reduce the amount of money available to pay current beneficiaries. This “privatization” of Social Security contributions would drain the Social Security Trust Fund in short order and require the transfer of TRILLIONS of dollars from the U.S. Treasury into the Social Security Trust Fund in the coming decades to continue paying current benefits.

The additional cost from adopting private accounts poses a much greater threat to the Social Security Trust Fund’s solvency than it currently faces. Consequently, I have always adamantly opposed “private” accounts, or “individual” accounts, or “personal accounts” – regardless of what they’re called. They’re a big gamble and a risky deal for workers, retirees, and taxpayers alike.

There’s no need for such radical changes to the system in order to preserve Social Security for future generations. The Social Security system can be made solvent for generations to come by adopting some of the relatively modest policy changes proposed by the Social Security Trustees. We certainly shouldn’t undermine the entire Social Security program with some harebrained privatization scheme that bankrupts Social Security in the short run and offers no guarantee of decent benefits in the long run.

While you may hear a lot of shouting about the payroll tax cut over the next few months, don’t let it distract you from the real threat to Social Security – namely, radical plans to convert Social Security from the current guaranteed retirement benefit for everyone to a risky gamble on Wall Street that would benefit only a select few at best.