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Trump puts a nail in the coffin on Social Security

Make no mistake — Social Security is on the ballot this fall. Its future is being threatened, and with it, the future of every American.

Approximately 660,000 Iowans receive a monthly Social Security benefit. An estimated 1.6 million Iowa workers pay in to the system with the promise that they will receive benefits when they retire, if they become disabled, or die with a spouse and/or children to support.

Social Security is 85 years old. It’s been one of the most successful programs in American history. It’s become so ingrained in American life that people have come to take it for granted.

But Americans can no longer do so. A recent proposal by President Trump has made it clear that the future of Social Security is up for grabs.

The president’s proposal is simple and its implications are enormous. He proposes to defer Social Security payroll taxes for workers for the rest of this year, then “terminate” those taxes if he’s re-elected. Yes, you read that right, terminate.

He said that on Aug. 8, and repeated his pledge several times the next day.

A reminder on how Social Security works – money comes in through payroll (FICA) contributions from about 178 million workers. The money coming in is used to pay monthly benefits to over 64 million Americans. The surplus is used to pay the administrative costs of running the program (salaries, buildings, equipment, etc.) and the rest is saved and invested in special issue Treasury bonds.

It’s fairly easy to see what would happen if Trump’s payroll tax pledge is fulfilled — if dollars cease to come in, benefits will only be paid until the surplus dries up. At that point, the system is bankrupt.

What would happen then? Neither the president nor his advisors have made that clear. Some have said that the payroll tax would be replaced with an income tax. Others have said money to pay benefits would be borrowed. Still others have said those decisions would be made down the road.

To be clear — this is a huge deal.

A reasonable conclusion is this – the President is either ignorant on how Social Security works (he doesn’t understand the relationship between payroll taxes and the payment of benefits), or he’s intentional — he wants to kill the program by starving it, or make radical alterations to it.

Either explanation should cause all Americans to tremble.

The key questions for each of us- who can we count on to protect Social Security for this and future generations?

We have two choices — either the current president, or Joe Biden.

We know what the president has recently promised. And we know it is the direct opposite of so many of his previous promises, including this from January 2020 — “I have totally left it (Social Security) alone, as promised, and will save it.”

We also know what Joe Biden has pledged — that he’ll protect and improve the program. We know that his record reflects what he’s said. And we know his party’s platform reinforces that.

Bottom line — your vote this fall will determine the fate of the Social Security system, and your own financial future. Vote accordingly. Vote for the candidate you trust.

Ask congressional candidates whether they support the president’s payroll tax proposal. If they do, how will future benefits be paid? If they don’t, what changes to the program will they support?

Expect and insist upon clear and specific answers.

Please don’t let candidates get away with vague answers, or convenient statements about the president not really meaning what he said.

If we have anyone tell us one more time that you can’t believe everything the president says, then one thing is obvious — it’s time to elect a new president. And to reject those who try to clean up his messes.

John and Terri Hale own The Hale Group, an Ankeny-based consulting, advocacy and communication firm focused on older Iowans, Iowans with disabilities, and the caregivers who support them.

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