Biden/Harris’s Anti-Trump Social Security Message: Granny-Off-The-Cliff-Ism Is Back

“Granny off the Cliff” is, of course, an infamous ad from 2011, sponsored not by a candidate or party but by an activist group called The Agenda Project, which, in its narration, said that Rep. Paul Ryan wanted to “privatize” Medicare (PolitiFact rated this as “mostly true”), but did so in an over-the-top fashion by showing a Paul Ryan look-alike literally pushing a wheelchaired granny off a cliff. (Yes, we assume that its a dummy that actually falls!)

Incidentally, “Granny off the Cliff” is in fact the actual title that group gave to their ad.

We don’t have grannies falling off cliffs yet, but we do have Vice Presidential nominee Kamala Harris making this statement in a speech yesterday:

“Just this week, just this week, the Social Security Administration said a cut to social security like the one Trump is proposing would end disability benefits within one year and all benefits within three years. So let me be as clear as possible. If Donald Trump’s extreme proposal goes into effect, the checks that American seniors are relying on, that you rely on to pay your bills, to buy your medicine, to live, will stop coming. “

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(Transcript from Rev; the activist group Social Security Works also featured this clip on twitter.)

Now, it’s true that, at the request of Senate Democrats, the Chief Actuary at the SSA calculated that, in a hypothetical in which payroll taxes were ended without any replacement revenue source, the Trust Funds would be drained within that time frame. I addressed this yesterday. But this is, of course, not what Trump is proposing. What he has said, instead, is that he intends for the lost revenue to be replaced by the General Fund, that is, the revenues that come from our income taxes, corporate taxes, and all the other government funds that aren’t set aside for a specific purpose.

To be sure, I’m certainly in favor of funding Social Security-type benefits through general taxation, as a part of a larger reform. I am not in favor of shifting the obligation over to general revenues without having a plan to fund the program; I find both indefinite deficit spending and the so-called “modern monetary theory” approach of what’s a dressed-up version of Weimar-like money printing to be appalling. It might seem to be an easy fix to make everyone happy but it risks devastating consequences — which means that in no way do I intend for what I write to be taken as support of Trump or his plan.

But it is nonetheless dishonest for Harris to tell voters that her opponent will “end all benefits within three years.” And Harris is smart enough to know perfectly well that her description of Trump’s proposal is dishonest.

Retirees — and those contemplating and planning for their retirement — deserve better than this. What they deserve is to have politicians on both sides of the aisle working together to come to a consensus on solutions.

As always, you’re invited to comment at JaneTheActuary.com!

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