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Louis Jacobson
By Louis Jacobson March 18, 2024

Biden opposes cuts to Social Security, but tax plan unlikely to advance

As a candidate in 2020, President Joe Biden promised to put Social Security on a path to solvency. But in his 2024 reelection campaign, Biden has challenged any discussion by Republicans of cutting benefits or raising the retirement age, two of the most commonly discussed policies to extend the program's solvency.

Social Security's fiscal concerns stand to worsen without big changes. Already, the program's trust fund is projected to run dry in about a decade, which would prompt large-scale cuts across the board.

"If anyone tries to cut Social Security, we're going to stop it," Biden said Feb. 9, 2023, in Tampa, Florida. Referring to a high-profile faceoff he had with Republican lawmakers during the 2023 State of the Union address, Biden said, "Sounded like they agreed to take these cuts off the table. I sure hope so. I really mean it."

More recently, Biden has used the Social Security discussion to hammer his presumptive 2024 opponent, former President Donald Trump. Biden pounced when Trump told CNBC on March 11 that "there is a lot you can do in terms of entitlements in terms of cutting." (Trump quickly walked back his comments.) 

Biden, speaking in New Hampshire shortly after Trump's comments were aired, said, "If anyone tries to cut Social Security or Medicare, or raise the retirement age again, I will stop them."

However, keeping the status quo jeopardizes the program fiscally, experts said.

"Congress and the president don't even want to discuss the issue. But a day of reckoning is coming," said Eugene Steuerle, a fellow at the Urban Institute, a Washington, D.C., think tank. "Revenues are inadequate to pay current bills, much less bills that rise as a share of national income."

Biden's fiscal year 2025 budget, released March 12, reiterated his opposition to cutting benefits or raising the retirement age. The budget backed "extending solvency" for the program by ensuring that higher-income Americans pay Social Security taxes on all of their earnings, which they currently do not.

That might help Social Security's fiscal position somewhat, but the budget provided little detail on how this tax increase would be structured. Presidential budgets are considered dead on arrival in Congress, especially when the opposite party controls at least one of the chambers, as the Republicans do now in the House.

"Like a car accelerating down a hill toward a barrier, the Biden proposals basically would move back the barrier a bit, only delaying the reckoning that is required," Steuerle said.

It's getting late in Biden's term to enact policies that would significantly extend Social Security's actuarial life, and the president has forcefully and repeatedly ruled out two potential options, benefit cuts and a higher retirement age. We rate this promise Stalled.

Our Sources

White House, president's budget 2025, accessed March 15, 2024

White House, "Fact Sheet: The President's Budget Protects and Strengthens Social Security and Medicare," March 11, 2024

White House, "Fact Sheet: The President's Budget Cuts Taxes for Working Families and Makes Big Corporations and the Wealthy Pay Their Fair Share," March 11, 2024

White House, "Remarks by President Biden on Social Security and Medicare, Tampa, Florida," Feb. 9, 2023

White House, "Remarks by President Biden on Lowering Healthcare Costs for American Families, Goffstown, NH," March 11, 2024

Washington Post, "Biden calls for broad new social programs, higher taxes on corporations and the wealthy," March 11, 2024

Washington Post, "Trump seeks to clarify stance on entitlements after mention of 'cutting,'" March 11, 2024

CPA Practice Advisor, "Biden's 2025 Budget Rejects Any Cuts to Social Security and Medicare," March 12, 2024

PolitiFact, "When will Social Security sunset? Barring congressional changes, money will deplete by 2034," Feb. 22, 2023

Email interview with Paul N. Van de Water, senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, March 4, 2024

Email interview with Eugene Steuerle, fellow at the Urban Institute, March 4, 2024

Louis Jacobson
By Louis Jacobson December 17, 2021

House bill would expand taxation for wealthy Americans to support Social Security

On Oct, 26, Rep. John Larson, D-Conn., introduced H.R. 5723, which includes many of the proposals on Social Security that Joe Biden outlined during the 2020 presidential campaign. 

The bill would expand benefits in several ways; we're tracking those provisions in a separate Biden promise. But it would also address the issue of Social Security's long-term solvency. 

When he made his promise, Biden said that he would ask Americans "with especially high wages to pay the same taxes on those earnings that middle-class families pay."

The Larson bill takes the approach Biden outlined by changing the calculations for payroll taxes, which undergird the trust funds that support Social Security. 

Currently, payroll taxes are collected on an individual's annual wages only up to $142,800. The Larson bill would newly apply the payroll tax to any wages above $400,000 also. Wages between those two thresholds would not subject to additional payroll taxes.

Backers of the bill say the tax provision would affect only 0.4% of wage earners but would raise enough revenue to fill more than half the current shortfall in the Social Security trust funds.

The measure had attracted 196 co-sponsors by mid-December, all of them Democrats, and on Dec. 7, the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Social Security held a hearing on the measure. 

It's too early to say how much attention Democratic leaders will give this legislation, or what the Congressional Budget Office, Congress' independent budget arbiter, will conclude about its impact on the trust fund shortfall.

Still, the bill's introduction is enough to move this promise to In the Works.

Our Sources

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