Yes, Robert Samuelson is at it again, spreading inaccurate and misleading claims about Social Security to justify taking money from retirees.
It seems that for some reason he has a hard time understanding the idea of a pension. This shouldn't be that hard, many people have them.
The basic principle is that you pay money in during your working years and then you get money back after you retire. Social Security is a pension that is run through the government. Therefore Samuelson wants to call it "welfare."
It is not clear exactly what his logic is. The federal government runs a flood insurance program. Are the payments made to flood victims under this program "welfare?" How about the people who buy government bonds. Are they getting "welfare" when they get the interest on their bonds? If there is any logic to Mr. Samuelson's singling out Social Security as a source of welfare, he didn't waste any space sharing it with readers.
There are a few other points that deserve comment. He claims that the trillions of dollars of surplus built up by the trust fund over the last three decades were an "accident." Actually, this surplus was predicted by the projections available at the time. If anyone did not expect a large surplus to arise from the tax increases and benefit cuts put in place in 1983 then their judgement and arithmetic skills have to be seriously questioned.
In terms of the program and the deficit, under the law it can only spend money that came from its designated tax or the interest on the bonds held by the trust fund. It has no legal authority to spend one dime beyond this sum. In that sense it cannot contribute to the deficit. Mr. Samuelson apparently wants to use Social Security taxes to pay for defense and other spending.
If we allow for the possibility that we could impose a "Social Security" tax on workers and then use this money for other purposes, the decision to not use it for other purposes can be said to make the deficit larger. But this is sort of like saying that our decision not to steal money from disabled people makes the deficit larger. After all, if we had a policy of stealing from the disabled, then the deficit would be lower. How can anyone argue with that.
Finally Samuelson decided to get a little creative with numbers to press his case. He told readers that:
"In 2008, a quarter of households headed by people 65 and over had incomes exceeding $75,000."
That's not what the Census data show. They put the share of the over 65 population with incomes of more than $75,000 at 15.8 percent. And, almost half of these people had incomes of less than $100,000. In this context it worth remembering that President Obama put his lower cutoff for those subject to tax increases at $200,000.
So, we are reminded yet again that Robert Samuelson really doesn't like Social Security and that he is willing to make up numbers to push his case.