On the EDge: The politics of Social Security

Composite image | Photo of Social Security cards courtesy of https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Social_Security_Cards.jpg; photo of handicap parking space courtesy of Pixabay, St. George News

OPINION — I have a lot of respect for my colleague Howard Sierer.

I find him an intriguing, old-school Republican, with traditional conservative values and beliefs. Thank God for that because those numbers are dwindling, succumbing to the whims of a New Right that has come completely unhinged. It is so bad that the GOP now seems intent on devouring itself, which would be a shame because we have a desperate need for strident conservative voices rooted in common sense and dignity.

Bob Dole was one of those guys. So was Barry Goldwater, George Romney, Dwight Eisenhower, John McCain and a host of others who would be ground underfoot by today’s Republican Party.

Howard, I am convinced, is made from that cloth.

That’s why his latest piece on Social Security and its various programs is not surprising.

I share his concern about the fraud that takes place within the system.

Let’s not get into the rancid debate over undocumented immigrants and Social Security. The truth is that undocumented immigrants pay into a tax system but cannot claim Social Security or Medicare. Despite all the bombast and political blunder, the fact is that undocumented immigrants paid $23.6 billion in federal taxes in 2015, according to the latest records available issued by the Institute of Taxation and Economic Policy, a Washington, D.C. think tank.

And, as expected from GOP doctrine, concerns regarding the Social Security and Medicare balance are centered upon false accusations against President Obama. Contrary to Republican claims, Obama is not responsible for all that ails us, from diplomatic relations with Russia to sluggish service at the local fast food joint. He is, however, a convenient crutch for Republicans. When all else fails, blame Obama. Or Hillary Clinton. Or Nancy Pelosi. Or any other Democrat from Chuck Schumer to Dick Durbin. Take your pick.

When all else fails, the finger gets pointed in odd directions.

My friend Howard talks of the huge increases in Social Security benefits and costs.

While that is true, it is not because of the fuzzy logic and skewed math employed by many who make such claims.

It’s a result of something that surfaced during the Reagan years when it was discovered that Baby Boomer longevity was growing while birth rates were declining. When Social Security was established in 1935, life expectancy was only 61 years old. Today, the life expectancy of a man is 80 and 84 for a woman.

Legislation passed in 1983, with bipartisan approval, included short-term and long-range changes.

The quick-fix portion implemented advances in tax rate increases that were already scheduled for employees and employers; permanent increases in self-employment tax rates; delays in the effective date of automatic cost of living allowances in benefits from June to December each year and inclusion of up to half of benefits in taxable income for certain high-income beneficiaries with appropriation of the resulting revenues to the Social Security trust funds, according to the Social Security Administration.

For the long-term, ages regarding how much in benefits kicking in was raised to keep pace with actuarial tables.

The jump in disability benefits Howard refers to actually began in the 1970s. It was determined then that the reason was because there were so many ineligible people collecting benefits and that the system itself discouraged those who were collecting benefits from seeking re-entry into the workforce, so this is nothing new.

Legislation in 1980 and 1984 was passed to correct the problem by limiting monthly disability benefits for families, shoring up administrative practices and requiring status reviews of those receiving benefits every three years.

President George W. Bush’s administration made minor changes to the program, extending disability benefits and food stamps to qualified immigrants and their children, eliminating wage credits for the military and expanding Medicare prescription drug coverage.


He temporarily reduced the Social Security tax rate from 6.2 to 4.2 percent from 2011-2012, which put more money in all of our pockets. The fact that doctors approved spurious claims cannot be blamed on him.

While it’s true money has been moved around, the greatest impact has been moving revenue from one Social Security fund to another.

Yet, we keep hearing about entitlements, as if our benefits are a bad thing, and the danger of running out of money to pay future generations.

Neither is the case.

These entitlements are just that – access to the money we all put into the Social Security program that is unequivocally ours. They are called entitlements because we are entitled to money we put away for our retirement. And, no, they are not going to undocumented immigrants who, although they may fake a Social Security number, can never collect on the money they have put into the system.

And, the threat of running out of money?

Another falsehood.

It just ain’t gonna happen.

In 1937, 53,236 people were received $1.28 million in Social Security benefits.

There were 66 million who received benefits in 2016. The government has worked to ensure that the funds remain secure for claimants. As foul as our elected representatives are, they are not foolhardy enough to let Social Security fail.

But, you cannot lay the blame on fraudulent behavior on Obama any more than you can blame President Trump. It all happens at levels far beneath them.

And, as much as we can complain, rightfully, about a ne’er-do-well Congress, they can enact all of the legislation they want, but how do you police the situation at the base level without adding layer upon layer of government oversight – i.e., bigger government, which is an unpopular notion, especially among Republicans.

Howard is, of course, right in being upset by fraudulent behavior.

We all should be.

That’s our money.

But, the system is in our favor, at least for now, to ensure it doesn’t disappear.

Regardless of what any politician claims.

No bad days!

Ed Kociela is an opinion columnist for St. George News. The opinions stated in this article are his own and may not be representative of St. George News.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @STGnews, @EdKociela

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2018, all rights reserved.

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  • NotSoFast September 25, 2018 at 5:53 pm

    A good summation Ed.
    However, maybe due to writer’s cramp, etc. you didn’t touch much on how congress sometimes reaches in the peoples S.S. nest egg account to fund other well intended projects with the promise of repaying it ASAP but never do. Both democrats and republicans do it. When it’s brought to their attention, they want to change the subject to more pressing subjects.
    Now if Wells Fargo, a magician or a used car salesman used a similar line to rob your personal savings account and insist on changing the subject, What would you, Ed Kociela do about it?

  • commonsense September 25, 2018 at 8:35 pm

    Undocumented immigrants do not pay into the tax system. They have no social security number, hence no withholding. Most are paid cash under the table and yet they use our medical facilities and our schools, our roads and police protection.

    • Red2Blue310 September 26, 2018 at 6:44 am

      Try to read a bit…
      “The best estimates come from research by the Institute of Taxation and Economic Policy, a Washington, DC, think tank, which suggests that about half of undocumented workers in the United States file income tax returns. The most recent IRS data, from 2015, shows that the agency received 4.4 million income tax returns from workers who don’t have Social Security numbers, which includes a large number of undocumented immigrants. That year, they paid $23.6 billion in income taxes.”

  • dodgers September 25, 2018 at 9:20 pm

    I agree that the federal government won’t let SS fail. However, it will very likely see some very significant changes including reduced and delayed benefits, increased taxes and means testing, to name a few. In addition, money will have to be borrowed (or redirected) to keep it afloat. Add to the mix our continuing deficits and ballooning debt, and it’s a recipe for disaster.

  • utahdiablo September 25, 2018 at 9:30 pm

    Can Non-Citizens Get Social Security Numbers?

    Only certain non-citizens are eligible to receive a Social Security number. If an immigrant is authorized to work temporarily—whether through a work visa like an H1-B or a temporary work-authorized status such as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) or Temporary Protected Status—a Social Security number is issued and remains valid for the length of the work authorization period. Green card holders, refugees, asylees, and certain other non-citizens who are allowed the live and work in the United States indefinitely are also eligible for a Social Security number with no restrictions. Undocumented immigrants are not eligible to obtain a Social Security number……illegal border-crossers from Mexico and Central America — who account for more than 75 percent of the illegal immigrant population in the US — are overwhelmingly poor, uneducated and lack English language and other skills. In fact, the average Latino illegal immigrant has less than a 10th-grade education. That means if they work, they tend to make low wages; and as a result pay relatively little in taxes while using public services. And if they have children while in the US, they more often than not receive welfare benefits on behalf of those US-born children, who have the same welfare eligibility as any other citizen.

  • bikeandfish September 26, 2018 at 10:55 pm

    Social security is a complex beast. I believed it would not be solvent by the time I collect but I’ve been corrected to believe it will provide about 70% of benefits still.

    Howard is likely what some would now deride as a RINO but he is a classic ideologue. “Both” sides want to limit facts to what supports their views. Howard has started shining the flood light into his own party and beliefs but not enough.

    Will be interesting to see how liberal and democratic pundits play their own criticism when they regain power in X years. Those in the majority never seem to like to be critical of their own

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