Truthsquad on Social Security
Social Security does not add one penny to the deficit.
Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) on Social Security and the U.S. Deficit
Source: Meet the Press

Editor Findings

  • Truthsquadeditoricon_thumb_thumb
    Half True

    On Feb. 20th, 2011, Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) made this claim on NBC's Meet the Press:

    "Social Security does not add one penny to the deficit."
    He went on to state that "Social Security untouched will make every promised payment for more than 25 years" and that a change in policy will be necessary to sustain the program beyond that date. Even so, Durbin maintains, Social Security "does not have any impact on the deficit."

    After carefully reviewing the factual evidence and arguments on both sides of this controversial issue, we find Sen. Durbin's claim "half true."

    Other senior Democrats, such as Senators Chuck Schumer and Harry Reid, recently made the same statement, using similar black-and-white language to defend Social Security. As we have often found on Truthsquad, reality is usually more nuanced than that -- and comes in many shades of gray.

    The controversy over this heated issue has polarized Americans across party lines, with Democrats claiming that Social Security has no impact on the deficit, and Republicans claiming the opposite. As we researched this claim, many of the articles we read on this topic tended to agree with one side or the other, and only a few non-partisan sources presented a neutral perspective on this politically charged issue.

    Despite the tension between these opposing viewpoints, most observers seem to agree on these facts:
     • Social Security is required by law to be self-financing
     • Payroll taxes exceeded benefit payments regularly until 2010
     • This generated a surplus of $2.5 trillion in the Social Security Trust Funds
     • There is now a net shortfall which is expected to deplete the surplus by 2037
     • Treasury borrowed from the surplus in the Trust Funds to pay for other programs
     • The government is now having to borrow money to pay its Social Security obligations

    More »

Community Findings

Mostly True (4.2)
  • Jon Mitchell
    Jon Mitchell
    It's almost true. The only addition to the deficit caused by Social Security is the $120bn credit for this one-year payroll tax holiday; otherwise, the program is required by law to be self-financing. The only reason the Trust Fund has to begin selling its bonds to cover its payouts is because its massive surplus has been depleted by Congress spending the money on other programs. And that's not the same as adding to the deficit, anyway; it's just redistributing it to whomever eventually buys the bonds. Now, that's not to say that Social Security isn't in financial trouble, but it still has 26 years to go before the service on the debts owed to it run out. It can be financed beyond that point by increases to the payroll tax, which, again, will not add to the general fund deficit.
  • Fabrice Florin
    Fabrice Florin
    After reading through dozens of links to factual evidence posted on this site, I conclude that Durbin's claim is partly false, though it has some elements of truth. From a legal perspective, it is technically true that Social Security is not designed to run a deficit. But from an economic perspective, it is contributing to the deficit, despite our best intentions -- based on evidence from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office and the Social Security Adminisrations, which I view as primary sources of financial data about this entitlement. From their perspective, meeting our obligations for this program is likely to cost taxpayers more than anticipated, even if others are to blame from this turn of events. From a legal standpoint, the U.S. is indeed obligated to repay Treasury securities held in the Social Security Trust fund. But in actuality, many observers view Social Security Trust Funds’ balances as "no more than accounting gains on paper" because Trust Funds have no ‘real’ assets (such as tradable stocks) -- and the Treasury Department would need to raise taxes, cut spending and/or borrow more money in the future to meet any withdrawal requests. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office weighs in: "assessing the state of the federal government's future finances requires measuring such commitments independently of their trust fund status or the balance recorded in the funds." They also report that "Social Security ran a $37 billion deficit last year, is projected to run a $45 billion deficit this year, and more red ink every year thereafter." So on a net basis, Social Security contributes to the deficit, even if it wasn't intended to. Whether or not it needs to be redesigned is a separate issue. I might have reached a different conclusion if we had fact-checked President Obama's statement that that Social Security is "not the huge contributor to the deficit that [Medicare and Medicaid] are," which seems more reasonable to me. But asserting that Social Security does not contribute one penny to the deficit seems inaccurate based on the evidence at hand. It's also worth noting that the same talking point was used by other Democratic senators like Chuck Schumer and Harry Reid, and it may have been an attempt to deflect Republican threats to streamline Social Security. This appears to be a wedge issue, and reactions seem very polarized across party lines, with left-leaning commentators claiming Social Security is fully self-funded, and right leaning commentators claiming it contributes to the deficit. As is often the case, the truth may lie somewhere in the middle.
  • Gin Ferrara
    Gin Ferrara
    Not Sure
  • Subramanya Sastry
    Subramanya Sastry
    Dean Baker makes a very strong legal argument for why SS cannot possibly contribute to the deficit: "Social Security is prohibited from spending any money beyond what it has in its trust fund. This means that it cannot lawfully contribute to the federal budget deficit, since every penny that it pays out must have come from taxes raised through the program or the interest garnered from the bonds held by the trust fund."
  • Patricia L'Herrou
    Patricia L'Herrou
    Not Sure
  • Fred Gatlin
    Fred Gatlin
  • Robert Murtha
    Robert Murtha
    Social Security is in surplus and, in any case, in not part of the budget.
  • Linda Brayton
    Linda Brayton
  • Marsha Iverson
    Marsha Iverson
  • Glenn LaBauve
    Glenn LaBauve
    Social Security has always been a self funded off budget program. The SS tax is the oft mentioned flat tax except that it phases out above $105K. There is no fund that is as solvent as the SS fund and it has in excess of a 2 trillion dollar surplus. This is not a smoke and mirrors surplus but is one backed by treasury bills and notes just like China and Saudi Arabia who are not worried about being repaid either.
  • Kenneth L Salzman, PhD
    Kenneth L Salzman, PhD
    The question arises only because some want to cut Social Security in some way. Since the current "costs" of the Social Security program are due only to the government having to pay back what it owes the trust fund, this is not a cost that accrues to the Social Security program, but rather to the government borrowing habits.
  • Khalilah Harris
    Khalilah Harris
  • Ben Ross
    Ben Ross
    The fund has stock piled way more that the cost of it's operation. If the balance sheet is given a good look, the math is simple. Dishonest 'economics' could make it look otherwise.
  • Mike Carlson
    Mike Carlson
    SS was designed to be a worker/employer self funding retirement annuity. The Reagan 80's "reform" allowed Congress to withdraw the "surplus" & substitute Treasury IOUs. The last tax-breaks-4-the-rich "deal" in the lame duck session reduced the payroll deductions & set up the fund to draw funds from general revenues to make up the difference ... right wing budget hacks have been trying to undercut SS since the 30's ... they succeeded in December and now hail the demise of SS because it increases the deficit ... which is doesn't ... unless you view it through the eyes of those who deny the existence of government & are therefore unable to govern.
  • Louise Auerhahn
    Louise Auerhahn
  • Deborah Plummer
    Deborah Plummer
    Robert Reich(.org), among others, has stated the same quote/fact. The way to eliminate the problem entirely is to remove the cap.
  • Sherwin Steffin
    Sherwin Steffin
  • Carlos R. Candelaria
    Carlos R. Candelaria
    In it's present incarnation the, this statement is false.If Social Security had operated as initially proposed it would be self sustaining.But it is constantly being raided for decades now and this raiding has made it unsustainable and as a result must be reworked.
  • Joel Kulenkamp
    Joel Kulenkamp
    I'm really getting fed up with the scare tactics about Social Security!
  • J. B. Van Wely
    J. B. Van Wely
  • Nick Penniman
    Nick Penniman
  • Margaret McGowan
    Margaret McGowan
  • David Saul
    David Saul
  • Jerome Taub
    Jerome Taub
  • Charles Aylworth
    Charles Aylworth
    Raise the salary cap on Social Security, and it will never contribute to the deficit.
  • marc sobel
    marc sobel
  • Lee Callister
    Lee Callister
    OK time for a more nuanced answer. depends on how you define it. Social Security was supposed to have been protected and wouldn't even be on the table but the govt has borrowed against it big time. Now it is paying out more than it takes in. And the GOP will fight repaying the debt because they want to gut it, so eventually without some change the outflow will raise the deficit. Robert Reich says we just need to raise the ceiling on paying into the system and it will balance out, which makes sense to me. But then I also think we should have universal health care, and reverse the concentration of wealth and power in this country. That's what is responsible for the deficit.
  • Kent Minault
    Kent Minault
  • Michael Martini
    Michael Martini
  • Michael Shaver
  • Dwight Rousu
    Dwight Rousu
  • Warrior Wheatman
    Warrior Wheatman
  • Kim C. Maynard
    Kim C. Maynard
    I quite certain that SS, by law, can not add to the deficit, that all the funds it pays out must come from those who pay in to the fund and that SS can not borrow money from the fed or elsewhere to meet its obligations. At least that is my recollection of studying the issue in macro-economics in college.
  • Richard McIlnay
    Richard McIlnay
  • Randall Leeds
    Randall Leeds
    Not Sure
    Congressional budget office fact sheet: At the present moment, 2010 is projected to wind up with a social security deficit. However, previous surpluses (since 1983 legislation that raised the SS tax rate) have been placed into the Social Security Trust Fund which pays out interest and has considerable value today. Therefore, net negative in one year does not mean that the overall government deficit rises at all. The money to cover social security distributions does not yet have to come out of other budget areas. None of the projected years beyond 2010 on the above mentioned fact sheet show a social security deficit, but looking around I see numbers like 2017 as the projected turning point with 2042 and 2050-something mentioned as the point at which deficits outstrip interest growth of the fund. Conclusion: This statement is typical political talk in the way it manages to make a statement devoid of enough context to properly evaluate.
  • Roland F. Hirsch
    Roland F. Hirsch
    Social Security fund "surpluses" have been used by the government for general purposes for decades. As more is now paid out than taken in by Social Security the government deficit will increase to pay these growing Social Security deficits. Mr Durbin knows this, but he is incapable of rising above the standard tactics the Democrats use to scare senior citizens about their benefits. His positions are one big reason so many young people are now supporting the tea parties and voting Republican, as they realize they will have no benefits when they retire if the Durbins continue to run things.
  • Eugene G Johnson
    Eugene G Johnson
  • Lucy Sells
    Lucy Sells
  • Carol Leimroth
    Carol Leimroth
  • Jack Dinkmeyer
    Jack Dinkmeyer
  • Floss Shahbegian
    Floss Shahbegian
  • CJ Livingston
    CJ Livingston
    What I think doesn't count - what do non-aligned bean counters say?
  • Bob W Vermeers
    Bob W Vermeers
    There is a very large fund set aside for Social Security that has been included in the figures for the general fund; thus making the deficit appear smaller than it is. So, if you start to draw down on that savings one could make the case that it is adding to the deficit even though the money rightly belongs to social security.
  • Frank Whitman
    Frank Whitman
  • Jeff Harris
    Jeff Harris
    So News Trust is wrong! They are saying that because the US treasury BORROWED money from a healthy Social Security fund and now has to pay it back that Social Security is part of the problem! That is like borrowing money from your mom because you are in debt and then blaming her for contributing to your indebtedness because you owe her money!!! "Oh, we are going to have to do something about mom she is a problem." This sort of reasoning is stupid.
  • Edward Craig
    Edward Craig
    Been paying SSI taxes 40 years, what was that for?
  • Don Bliss
    Don Bliss
  • Albert N. Milliron
    Albert N. Milliron
  • Dave Paulson
    Dave Paulson
    The fact is that Social Security still presently has a positive trust fund balance. To assert that Social Security adds to the deficit is to accept a flawed logical argument that would also force the conclusion that any person who deposits money in a bank that then later generates losses shares in the responsibility for said bank's loss with each trivial withdrawal they make. The argument that Social Security is, in any way, responsible for increases in the deficit is obviously fallacious -- Social Security doesn't add to the deficit -- payments from the general fund used to repay its debt add to the deficit. The CAUSE of said payments is government borrowing, the costs of whatever programs were funded using the Social Security trust fund, and the lack of sufficient general fund revenues to cover said costs without raiding the fund of a solvent government program. Besides, in a purely technical sense, the deficit is a function of the federal budget, and Social Security is an "off-budget" program, which means it's impossible for it to add to a budget deficit.
  • William Duroe
    William Duroe
  • J H Bud Paulson
    J H Bud Paulson
  • Butch Lemmon
    Butch Lemmon
    Not Sure
    I sure hope not. Because I'am on that system and I put every penny into it since 1963. USA (RET)
  • John P. Derry
    John P. Derry
    False Here is a link I used doing one of my Political Theory Classes. The class was assigned the tax of attempting to fix the budget. One of the many options was social security. So obviously if you can cut it to reduce money spent on the must have been adding money to the deficit in the beginning
  • Patricia W. Neal
    Patricia W. Neal
    any deficit adding is due to the U.S. Treasury using the deposited Social Security Trust Funds for government expenditures. Social Security is self funded, through payroll deductions from both employees and employers. However, these funds are then placed in Treasury Certificates. When the Social Security Trust Fund needs its money the Treasury has to borrow to pay up. I suppose you could in a convoluted way say this contributes to the deficit. But, it is not Social Security's deficit or actions that triggered the shortfall.
  • Thomas Rowan
    Thomas Rowan
    Social Security has a broad base of financial support and ought to be preserved for the elderly to live in basic comfort.
  • Robert F Hickey, Ph.D.
    Robert F Hickey, Ph.D.
    Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) confirmed for me today that the Social Security Fund has a surplus of more than $2 billion. The issue with SS is that the federal government raids SS dollars routinely leaving IOUs behind. SS is an entitlement solely because each wage earner pays into the fund through SS dedcustions each time we receive a paycheck.
  • Joseph Shirk
    Joseph Shirk
  • Marcelle Bessman
    Marcelle Bessman
  • Unwana Udoh
    Unwana Udoh
  • Annette Jacobson
    Annette Jacobson
  • Tim Waters
    Tim Waters
    It's based on contributions from us and our employers. It's also solvent for another 30 years. At that point a small adjustment would again make it fine. The adjustment would be to tax all income and not just the first 110,00. It would also help to take it out of the general fund so all the Presidents since Reagan have been borrowing against it in order to help balance their phony budgets. Shame on Media telling a different scenior.
  • Leigh Ann Squires
    Leigh Ann Squires
    Just one more example of why I appreciate NewsTrust! Thank you all for contributing to an intelligent, respectful, and thorough discussion of the issue.
  • Patty Herrick
    Patty Herrick
  • David Spoonemore
    David Spoonemore
    When are the politicians going to replace the TRILLIONS of dollars they've BORROWED from the trust fund?
  • Mark Hartney
    Mark Hartney
  • Melanie Maisey
    Melanie Maisey
    Not Sure
  • lawrence pearlman
    lawrence pearlman
  • John Carbone
    John Carbone
  • Randall Jones
    Randall Jones
  • Nick Chen
    Nick Chen
  • Wasim Entabi
    Wasim Entabi
  • Jim Britt
    Jim Britt
  • shirley wershba
    shirley wershba
  • Charles Ramos
    Charles Ramos
  • John Satchell
    John Satchell
  • Peter Hansen
    Peter Hansen
    Presently Social Security does not add to the deficit. Under present circumstances it could in the coming years. But let's look at the way the feds appropriated the people's funds for use instead of putting them aside in safe high-yielding investments. This unfairly diminished the overall balance over decades. Secondly, the program unfairly taxes lower wage earners rather than all wage earners equally. The rich are so vocal about a flat tax yet social security is taxed on income and after a maximum contribution level is reached the taxes stop. How is that fair? It's not. If we taxed everyone equally without a ceiling the social security fund would be solvent, probably forever. But the fat cats just want to keep the masses down.
  • Viraj Wikramanayake
    Viraj Wikramanayake
  • DAnne Burley
    DAnne Burley
    Please note that the deficit is from uncontrolled spending and using money from other agencies to pay off debts. Let the issue of no bid Halliburton and other earmark link conflicted companies who have in the pass over charged the government with no one within having a clue to get them to return the money to us. Then there is the state by state CAFR1 hidden from the public eyes whereby there is money but on hold while the public is being lied - too. Social Security when it started was backed by T bills and interest was compounded daily on these accounts again where did the interest go where was it applied? We need a complete accountability to who are what is involved within prior government accounting because there is something wrong here. And seniors the disabled and those who have retired are all pay for your goofy accounting. Hmm and here is another issue, if I worked in accounting a lost 2.4 trillion dollars within expense billing I would be fired not able to move up and investigated plus since I am Black I would be arrested. I saw this happen many times with amounts less than a few thousands within huge corporation. Wow you have government accountants losing information on where expense accounts were used and who had gotten this money? Vanished but people on Social Security are forced to live on cat food and in the streets to deal with the mistakes make. This is outrageous! The old disabled single moms and everyone else who is losing there home gets nothing why? And, just because your system is too complex for those who are attorneys and government accountants who work within this government to understand themselves or are we being lied to and robbed.
  • Milt Shook
    Milt Shook
    The truth is, the statement is absolutely correct. The Social Security Trust Fund has been running huge surpluses for more than 25 years. It was designed to withstand the bubble caused by Baby Boomer retirements, which means the surplus has been allowed to build for many decades, to make up for the inevitable deficits caused by these retirements. The federal government has borrowed against the trust fund often over the years, to make the general fund deficit seem smaller. But the fact is, Social Security doesn't add anything to the deficit, and won't for years.
  • Pam Soreide
    Pam Soreide
    I voted True on this topic. After reading others comments, I realize that there is so much political posturing about the subject that it is difficult to tell what the "truth" is. I personally think that the Republicans, who have been trying to weaken, eliminate or privatize it for years, may be motivated by the fact that many are employers or receive reelection funding from major employers, who do not wish to contribute their 7.5% to the withholding. I do wish that our elected representatives would treat us like adults and not muddy the water with specious claims on both sides. Both parties have appropriated money from the SS fund, and both are complicit in trying to cover that fact up. Characterizing people on SS as "lazy" or somehow undeserving is just ugly.
  • Jim Edwards-Hewitt
    Jim Edwards-Hewitt
  • mohamed abdallah
    mohamed abdallah
  • Laer Haider
    Laer Haider
  • Freda Anderson
    Freda Anderson
    Not Sure
  • John Hartnett
    John Hartnett
  • Jennifer Albright
    Jennifer Albright
  • Paul Wozniak
    Paul Wozniak
  • Ashley Weekes
    Ashley Weekes
    Not Sure
  • Ashley Weekes
    Ashley Weekes
    Not Sure
    I'm not completely sure about Sen. Durbin's claim. After reading several articles, I've come to the conclusion that social security is something that will effect the deficit in the future while it might not be and extreme threat to it now. Tax revenues will eventually exceed the program costs before permanatley falling behind program costs in 2015. For years the amount of money collected exceeded the amount it pays out. Ultimaley, social security while it may be an extreme threat of the deficit in the future, it still does effect it now.
  • Tony Correia
    Tony Correia
    Social security has nothing to do with the deficit.It's paid by the working people.Not by the anti americans republicans.
  • Bridget Gibson
    Bridget Gibson
  • Ramona Fankhauser
    Ramona Fankhauser
  • yates9
  • Mbaldwin
    Not Sure
  • Jerome Freehill
    Jerome Freehill
    SS was designed to support itself. Only when congress borrows or steals from it is it a problem.
  • Sam Honeycutt
    Sam Honeycutt
  • Spencer Yeo
    Spencer Yeo
  • Karlsson
    Not Sure
  • Reid Kleckner
    Reid Kleckner
  • JMichael Robertson
    JMichael Robertson
  • Robert Ruderman
    Robert Ruderman
  • Roger Wood
    Roger Wood
  • Ed Good
    Ed Good
  • Carol Comeaux
    Carol Comeaux
    Fact: "Since Social Security is legally prohibited from ever spending more than it has collected in taxes," Dean Baker correctly argues, "it cannot under the law contribute to the deficit." That's the law. By definition, it cannot contribute to the deficit as it can pay out only what it has collected (monies put in Trust Fund as well as collected in current year). North Carolina rep Brad Miller explains it well: "The system has been running a substantial surplus for a generation because the Baby Boom has been working and paying payroll taxes, and the Baby Boom dwarfs the generation now receiving benefits. The surplus has gone into the Trust Fund, which now stands at about $2.6 trillion (That's trillion with a "T.") As the Baby Boom retires, the system will stop running a surplus later this decade. Then the system will pay full benefits, including cost-of-living adjustments, from payroll taxes and the interest from the Trust Fund. About a decade after that, payroll taxes and interest on the Trust Fund will not be enough to pay full benefits, including cost of living adjustments. Then the system will pay full benefits, including cost of living adjustments, from payroll taxes, interest and the principal of the Trust Fund. Around 2037, the principal of the Trust Fund will be exhausted. Under the existing law, the system will then reduce the benefits to what can be covered by payroll taxes."
  • Scott Mace
    Scott Mace
  • Mark Breyfogle
    Mark Breyfogle
    Not Sure
  • der_spud
  • Jake Barck
    Jake Barck
  • Honah Lee
    Honah Lee
  • rich meyer
    rich meyer
    Not Sure
  • Joshua Furey
    Joshua Furey
  • Annie Vickery
    Annie Vickery
  • David Nichols
    David Nichols
    Not only is this true, the fact is that the government has been borrowing money from the Social Security fund for decades, and it still has a lsarge surplus.
  • Joan Underwood
    Joan Underwood
  • Stephen N
    Stephen N
  • kazamiza
  • Daniel Herzberg Karpantschof
  • Sarathomas
  • Norma Williams
    Norma Williams
    Read this and other info on
  • joseeraymond
  • Bob Weigel
    Bob Weigel
  • Roger W. English
    Roger W. English
  • Ann Burruss
    Ann Burruss
    It's true, and Al Gore's "lock box" would have solved the problem of congressional representatives allowing social security funds to be spent on the general budget, which now must be paid back through borrowing.
  • Jonas Maaløe Jespersen
  • Richard Baker
    Richard Baker
  • Rodney Wollam
    Rodney Wollam
  • Mary Leduc
    Mary Leduc
  • Elizabeth Evelyn
    Elizabeth Evelyn

COMMENTS (21) Help

(Add a link »)

Links (23)