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Home Publications Blogs Social Security Monitor Letter to Sen. Isakson: Budget Problems Stem From Health Care Costs, Not Social Security

Letter to Sen. Isakson: Budget Problems Stem From Health Care Costs, Not Social Security

Written by Dean Baker   
Tuesday, 01 November 2011 15:40

The Honorable Johnny Isakson
131 Russell Senate Office Building
United States House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515

Dear Senator Isakson:

During a recent talk at the Athens Country Club, you called for reform of entitlements saying, “…the real debt culprits are Medicare and Social Security.” You went on to predict that Social Security would begin to see benefit reductions as early as 2025.

In reality, neither of these statements is true. Social Security was created with a dedicated source of funding, Social Security payroll taxes, and because of this dedicated revenue stream, Social Security, by law, cannot contribute to the national deficit since it can only spend money taken in through this tax or from the bonds government purchased with surplus tax revenues in prior years.

Concerning future benefits, the legislation adopted based on the recommendations of the National Commission on Social Security Reform in 1983 led to the growth of a large surplus in Social Security. This surplus was used to buy bonds and now Social Security holds more than $2.6 trillion in government bonds. As a result, the Congressional Budget Office’s projections show that the program will maintain full solvency through the year 2038, a full 13 years beyond your prediction. After 2039, even if Congress makes no changes to the program whatsoever, Social Security will still be able to pay a substantial benefit. For example, if your children, now in their 30s, do as well as you have in your working years and retire at the normal retirement age, they would receive benefits of over $33,000 (in 2011 dollars) each year for the rest of their lives.

The real “culprit” that a serious plan would address is the soaring cost of healthcare. We pay twice as much per person for health care compared to other developed nations yet have no better outcomes and shorter life expectancies. If we were able to rein in health care costs then there would be little problem balancing the budget in future decades.

As you continue to discuss Social Security and the national debt, I hope you and your staff will have the opportunity to further review the design and finances of the program as well as the factors that actually contribute to national deficits. If you would like any additional background on these topics, I would be happy to assist you.
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