Following order on payroll tax, Trump threatens to kill Social Security if reelected

Michael Hiltzik, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Business News

With his four executive orders purportedly aimed at relieving Americans of the burdens of the coronavirus, President Trump spun the theme of his administration -- the Art of the Con -- up to a higher level.

The orders he signed Saturday include a supposed moratorium on evictions and foreclosures, a deferral of student loan payments and an extension of federal unemployment benefits.

The moratorium is unlikely to stop a single eviction or foreclosure, however. The deferral of student loan payments is short-term and narrower than what Congress put in place in May, and that has expired.

The extension of unemployment benefits reduces the federal share to $300 a week from $600, will last only four to six weeks and imposes insurmountable barriers on states to achieve even that much.

But the most potentially far-reaching order concerns the payroll tax, which funds Social Security and part of Medicare. This order, along with comments Trump made at the signing ceremony, poses a mortal threat to the 64 million Americans who currently receive Social Security benefits and the hundreds of millions more who will receive benefits in coming decades.

If he's reelected, Trump said, he will "terminate" the payroll tax. Make no mistake: He's talking about bankrupting Social Security.


It's rare that a president has made such a compelling case for his own electoral defeat. Yet his campaign was so proud of this threat that it tweeted out Trump's words within minutes.

Social Security advocates weren't nearly so sanguine.

"This is all a very well thought-out campaign to undermine Social Security and Medicare," Wiliam F. Arnone, chief executive of the National Academy of Social Insurance, told me. The order threatens to "erode the economic security of millions of Americans, without bringing meaningful relief for unemployed workers or employers."

Rep. John B. Larson, D-Conn., the sponsor of a proposal to expand Social Security, called the order "the single worst way to get relief to beleaguered Americans ... stealing from their retirement to make up for the administration's failure to contain the virus."


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