An advocacy organization founded by the late son of Franklin Delano Roosevelt endorsed Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden Thursday morning, warning that President Donald Trump's push to eliminate the payroll tax if reelected poses an "existential threat" to Social Security's dedicated funding.
Founded in 1982 in the midst of the Reagan administration's assault on Social Security and other key components of the nation's safety net, the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare (NCPSSM) typically focuses its political activity on congressional races; before Thursday, the group—which represents millions of members nationwide—had never endorsed a candidate for the White House.
But NCPSSM president Max Richtman told Common Dreams in an exclusive interview that the organization's board felt compelled to break with tradition, given Trump's open threats to gut a program that provides crucial benefits to some 64 million Americans in a time of widespread economic pain caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
"The tipping point, or the straw that broke the camel's back, was the payroll tax cut proposal from the president. We look at it as an existential threat to the program, going right to the heart of the funding of Social Security."
—Max Richtman, NCPSSM
"This really is unprecedented for us, but we think it's called for," Richtman said. "The tipping point, or the straw that broke the camel's back, was the payroll tax cut proposal from the president... We look at it as an existential threat to the program, going right to the heart of the funding of Social Security."
Richtman's assessment of the potential consequences of scrapping the payroll tax—the funding mechanism for Social Security—echoed the findings of the Social Security Administration's chief actuary, who told a group of senators late last month that ending the payroll tax would "permanently" deplete Social Security's Disability Insurance trust fund by mid-2021 and the Old Age and Survivors Insurance trust fund by mid-2023 "with no ability to pay" benefits thereafter.
While Trump has insisted that his proposal would leave Social Security unscathed by replacing lost payroll tax revenue with revenue from the general fund, Richtman voiced skepticism about that proposed solution and suggested it could be another of the president's many empty promises.
"My response is: really?" said Richtman. "You just added trillions of dollars to the federal debt with the huge tax cut... and you think Congress is going to come up with more trillions of dollars to put into Social Security? I don't think so."
Notwithstanding his 2016 campaign promise to abandon Republican orthodoxy and shield Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid from cuts, Trump has repeatedly called for slashing all three programs in his budget proposals during his first four years in office and, on several occasions, made explicit his intention to pursue cuts if he wins a second term in November. Trump's reelection, NCPSSM and other organizations have warned, could be a fatal blow to Social Security.
This president, who threatens to "terminate" #SocialSecurity's funding source if re-elected, does not deserve to be. Trump's executive order to suspend workers' #payroll contributions is a back-door assault on Americans' earned benefits. https://t.co/BYAhcK4Fo5
— Nat. Cmte. to Preserve Social Security & Medicare (@NCPSSM) August 18, 2020
Throughout the 2020 Democratic presidential primary process, as Common Dreams reported, Biden also faced criticism over his past support for Social Security cuts. Nancy Altman, president of advocacy group Social Security Works, said in a January statement that Biden's Social Security record—including comments he made as recently as 2018—is "cause for concern."
Biden has since committed to protecting and expanding Social Security and condemned Trump's threat last month to end the payroll tax as a "reckless war" on the program "at a time when seniors are suffering the overwhelming impact of a pandemic he has failed to get under control." Days after Trump openly vowed to "terminate" the payroll tax, Social Security Works' political action committee endorsed Biden, warning that "there has never been an election more consequential for Social Security than this one."
"There has never been an election more consequential for Social Security than this one."
—Social Security Works PAC
James Roosevelt, Jr., vice chairman of NCPSSM's advisory board and the grandson of FDR, echoed that sentiment in a statement, saying, "My father and grandfather would be outraged that President Trump and his allies want to dismantle" Social Security and Medicare.
"When FDR said 'no damn politician' would dare scrap Social Security, he still thought every politician would be concerned for the welfare of the American people," said Roosevelt. "He never contemplated a Donald Trump."
Speaking to Common Dreams, Richtman acknowledged that Social Security advocates may find some of Biden's past positions and comments on the program disagreeable. But, given Biden's current policy proposals and more recent statements, Richtman expressed confidence that the Democratic nominee will champion Social Security if elected in November.
In a press release announcing its endorsement, NCPSSM points to Biden's description of Social Security as a "sacred obligation" and says the former vice president's proposal to expand benefits would lift "an additional half a million seniors out of poverty by 2030."
"Never in our organization's history have we seen such a consistent level of threats to the health and retirement security of America's seniors," Richtman said in a statement. "There is no doubt that the most effective way to protect the future for older Americans is to elect Joe Biden as president."
"After nearly four decades of fighting to protect American seniors, the National Committee has determined that many older Americans cannot afford—let alone survive—another four years of President Trump," Richtman continued. "By endorsing Joe Biden and Kamala Harris today, we will work tirelessly to help voters of all ages understand that Trump's promises are empty. He offers seniors a one-way ticket to nowhere."