By Edwin Cooney
Not long ago, one of my readers, a lady raised in Michigan who is as sweet as sugar candy and a lifelong Democrat to boot, sent me a GOP clarification on the subject of the real threat to Social Security. She said she found it “quite enlightening”. What this little missive does is to inform readers that it’s the Democrats and not the Republicans who are destined to deprive “we the people” of Social Security benefits.
It begins by informing the reader that FDR made five promises when he signed the Social Security Act on August 14th, 1935. These promises were the following:
The Social Security program would be voluntary;
The people would be taxed no more than one percent on their first $1,400 of annual income;
The money would be spent solely on Social Security and on no other government program;
The money you and your employer paid into FICA (Federal Insurance Contributions Act) would be tax deductible; and finally,
The benefits you receive would never be taxed.
It should be first established that the Republican Party, and especially the conservative wing of that party, has never been either impressed or interested in FDR’s promises. Since the 1930s, there are people who have labeled him “the root of all evil.” Additionally, his Conservative enemies have called him everything from a Communist to a “syphilitic cripple”. Even more, Republicans, and especially Conservatives, have made it clear that your day-to-day welfare is none of their concern—especially as taxpayers.
As for FDR’s supposed promises, the realities are:
Not all job categories were under the Social Security system when the program began. Since people could work in any number of jobs that weren’t then covered by FICA, there was a degree of volunteerism—but none specifically promised by FDR.
In addition, the first $3,000 – not $1,400 -- was taxable up to one percent. The tax rate went up from one to three percent between 1935 and 1949.
As for FDR’s supposed promise that Social Security payments would never be taxed, Social Security was one of Roosevelt’s greatest legacies, but it is still vulnerable to future generations.
The rest of this propaganda piece tries to convince potential 2008 voters that LBJ, Jimmy Carter and “Albert Arnold Gore” deliberately and systematically withdrew FDR’s original guarantees in exchange for cheap votes from the poor and from selfish, greedy immigrants.
The author is Vincent Peter Render. He says he thinks it was in 1958 that Senate Democratic Majority Leader Lyndon Banes Johnson first extracted moneys from the Social Security System -- with compliance from liberal Democratic majorities in both Houses, of course. What he doesn’t mention is that in order to do so, LBJ and the rest of those bad old Democrats would have needed the signature of Dwight David Eisenhower, the then Grand Old Man of the Republican Party, in order to accomplish their mischief. So, it didn’t happen.
What President Lyndon B. Johnson did do in 1968 was to sign legislation that added money to the Social Security trust fund as part of the budget for accounting purposes. My guess is that the reason for this was political; after all, no good Democrat would deny that LBJ was a master politician. My guess is that the reason for adding benefits in the Social Security trust fund to the budget was so that the fiscal 1969 budget, LBJ’s last, would balance. Nevertheless, according to the Social Security Administration website, the rules for the distribution of trust fund money haven’t been changed since the fund was established in 1939. Money from the Social Security trust fund can only be lent to securities which have the “full faith and credit” of the Federal government through treasury bills, treasury bonds and special issue bonds. It is true that the government can lend itself money via these instruments and spend the money on other projects, but this malady cannot be ranked as one of LBJ’s countless sins.
By confusing Social Security benefits with SSI (Supplemental Security Income) benefits, Mr. Render wants you to believe that, in 1978, Jimmy Carter gave your hard earned Social Security Benefits to immigrants who never contributed to the system. SSI benefits have no link to Social Security. The SSI program is a Federal welfare program for the benefit of the poor -- legal immigrants included. It was signed into law by GOP President Richard M. Nixon on October 30th 1970.
Finally, in dramatic fashion, Vincent Peter Render describes Vice President “Albert Arnold Gore’s” Senate tie-breaking vote raising the percentage of Social Security taxes on high-income beneficiaries from fifty percent to eighty-five percent. What he doesn’t tell you is that in April 1983, President Reagan, at the recommendation of the Greenspan Commission, signed legislation overruling the Treasury Department’s past decisions that Social Security benefits weren’t taxable. That Reagan-approved legislation taxed Social Security benefits for the first time.
Conservatives deeply believe that private insurance companies could have given John and Suzie Q. Citizen a better deal on their potential retirement incomes than FDR gave them. The fact of the matter remains, however, that these same ideologues believe even more deeply that your day-to-day Social Security is none of the government’s concern. Of course they’d love to have you turn your Social Security checks over to them so they could play with them just as they played with your money in the stock market of the 1920s.
You know, FDR had a phrase that he often used to describe the force behind propaganda pieces such as Vincent Peter Render’s plea. He called such pleas exactly what they were: “crocodile tears”.