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No, President Joe Biden does not have a plan to cut Social Security by 23%

A Club for Growth ad ignores the president’s opposition to cuts to Social Security and his proposal that top earners contribute more to strengthen the program.

By Josh Israel - May 08, 2023
David McIntosh, Mike Pence
David McIntosh, president of the Club for Growth, with former Vice President Mike Pence, March 2023 in Palm Beach, Florida (Club for Growth/Facebook)

President Joe Biden has vowed to protect Social Security from cuts and has proposed steps to strengthen the program. Now the dark money group Club for Growth is running ads falsely claiming that Biden backs a scheme to cut benefits by nearly a quarter.

The spot, released Monday, accuses both Biden and former President Donald Trump of backing significant cuts to Social Security benefits. A narrator says:

Social Security’s not just a program, it’s a promise. But Donald Trump’s plan? Same as Biden’s. What’s that mean for you? Benefit cuts of 23%, triggered automatically in 10 years or less, by the Trump-Biden Social Security scheme. Seniors on fixed incomes, Americans nearing retirement, staring down the barrel of financial catastrophe. That’s not what we were promised. Tell Trump and Biden: Stop allowing cuts to Social Security.

In small print, the 23% claim is sourced first to a January 2023 commentary on the website of the right-wing Heritage Foundation and then to “Wall Street Journal, 4/13/23.”

The Heritage Foundation article is an assessment that without tax increases now, Social Security will run out of funds in 2033 and, under current law, will then have to reduce benefits. To address the shortfall, author Rachel Greszler suggests privatizing the program and allowing working people to put their money into the stock market rather than the trust fund.

The Wall Street Journal citation is not of the paper’s reporters but of an op-ed written by Club for Growth President David McIntosh. In that piece, McIntosh, a former Republican representative from Indiana, cited the Heritage Foundation commentary in claiming: “Thus consequences of leaving Social Security ‘without any changes,’ as promised by Biden-Trump, are dire. Ten years from now, benefit cuts of 23% will be triggered if there is no change to Social Security, according to one analysis.”

Biden is not proposing to leave Social Security without any changes. During the 2020 campaign, he proposed on his campaign website to lift the cap on payroll tax contributions: “The Biden Plan will put the program on a path to long-term solvency by asking Americans with especially high wages to pay the same taxes on those earnings that middle-class families pay.” Under current rules, individuals pay a percentage of their income in Social Security taxes, but only on the first $160,200. As a result, a person earning $50,000 annually pays a much higher percentage of their income into the trust fund than one earning $5 billion.

In March, the Biden administration fact sheet about his fiscal year 2024 budget proposal said: “The Administration is committed to protecting and strengthening Social Security and opposes any attempt to cut Social Security benefits for current or future recipients. The Administration looks forward to working with the Congress to responsibly strengthen Social Security by ensuring that high-income individuals pay their fair share.”

Though the Club for Growth equates Biden’s plan with Trump’s, they are not the same. Trump ran in 2020 on an oft-repeated promise not to cut Social Security, Medicaid, or Medicare, but then included cuts in every one of his annual budget proposals. In January 2020, before the COVID-19 pandemic paralyzed the economy, Trump told CNBC he would propose entitlement cuts toward the end of the year because growth would be so tremendous. “At the right time we will take a look at that,” he said. “You know, that’s actually the easiest of all things, if you look, because it’s such a low percentage.”

The Club for Growth’s political action committee spent more than $12 million in support of Trump’s failed 2020 reelection campaign. Its website now encourages Congress, “Rein in runaway entitlement spending through market-based reforms.”

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.

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