Federal Reserve Bank, Social Security
Photo credit: Adapted by WhoWhatWhy from Spamguy / Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0).

An e-mail from Mother Jones this week carried a “sponsored message from the Progressive Turnout Project.”

The message urged me to REPLY IMMEDIATELY to a “JUST IN” report: “Trump’s Budget SLASHES Social Security.”

I know nothing of the Progressive Turnout Project, although following a link at the end of its message suggests that its business may be trolling for zip codes to associate with the e-mail addresses of readers who saw the message and responded. (In response to my query, Mother Jones said only that it supplements readers’ donations with “revenue from advertisers.”)

In this case, responders were asked only to APPROVE or DISAPPROVE of “Trump’s Social Security Cuts.” The proposition that Trump has the power to cut Social Security benefits was taken for granted. And, given the political makeup of Mother Jones’s readership, it seems likely that most responders would click DISAPPROVE, under the impression that they were defending Social Security against a Trump administration attack.

The truth is, linking Social Security to the federal budget has long been a favorite tactic of right-wing ideologues, who have been trying to undermine confidence in the Social Security system ever since its inception in 1936. They would like Americans to think of it as an unfair transfer of wealth from young to old, diverting money that could be spent on education, or as a drag on America’s resources that should go to national defense in a dangerous world. They portray the system as an example of the greed of the elderly.

In reality, what galls them is the promised (and always delivered) retirement security itself, because that makes working Americans a bit less reliant on the goodwill of employers for their own and their families’ quality of life.

My July 19 article here, “Social Security May Bust the Federal Budget – But Not How You Think,” describes in detail how the law requires the Treasury Department to separate employment taxes (6.2% for workers and employers alike) from all other government revenues, maintain separate records for the Social Security Trust Fund, invest surplus Trust Fund assets in US Treasury bonds, and pay out retirement benefits from Social Security accounts in the Federal Reserve Bank. There is no overlap between the government’s general fund and the Social Security Trust Fund. No agency outside the Social Security system can receive or spend Social Security money. And nothing that happens in the Social Security system has any effect whatsoever on the federal budget.

Even if the purpose behind the Progressive Turnout Project’s overheated rhetoric was to galvanize a larger response to its ad, the result is to spread a dangerous falsehood about a retirement system that millions of Americans rely on to shore up their standard of living. In fact, neither Trump nor anyone else in the administration gets to “cut” Social Security benefits. And that’s something we can all APPROVE.


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