Senator Durbin’s comments don’t reflect reality on Social Security

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In the negotiating and positioning about the fiscal cliff, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., argued that Social Security should be off the table, and shouldn’t be part of the discussion on what entitlement programs to cut.

“Social Security does not add one penny to our debt, not a penny,” the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate declared on ABC’s “This Week.”

But the fact is that the retirement benefit program has added more than a few pennies to the national debt. It’s on track to add nearly $150 billion to the debt in in the last three years alone. 

For not giving an accurate picture of Social Security’s current financial situation, Durbin wins the Whopper of the Week, a distinction given by the Washington Guardian to the most misleading, inaccurate, mistaken or just plain wrong statements by politicians and policymakers.

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    A few years ago, Durbin would have been correct. But in 2010 the government for the first time had to borrow money in order to help cover Social Security’s costs.  Not just a little, but $36.8 billion according to the White House Office of Management and Budget.

    The shortfall continued the next year, with the government borrowing $48 billion in 2011, and it’s expected to continue.  The Congressional Budget Office, a nonpartisan office that does research for Congress, estimates that the shortfall for 2012 will be $59 billion, followed by $76 billion in 2013 and $86 billion each year for 2014 and 2015.

    In fact, the Old-Age, Survivors and Disability Insurance – as Social Security is officially known – is expected to be bankrupt by 2016, according to the CBO.

    Durbin is correct when he called the program a “separate funded operation” and not entirely financed by the government.  Almost every working individual pays into Social Security through payroll and income taxes.  But that’s no longer covering the costs of benefits.

    And the problem is getting worse.  In 2011, the CBO estimated that the government would need to borrow $164 billion to keep the program solvent through 2015.  But a new estimate this year bumped that estimate up to $355 billion.

    So in three or four short years, Social Security is facing its own cliff.  Lawmakers often talk about reform to try to keep the program in existence.  But the first step for leaders like Durbin is acknowledging just how much debt the program is incurring 

    FactCheck.org contributed to this report.

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