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Letter to Senator Graham on Social Security Comments

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Written by Dean Baker   
Friday, 17 June 2011 11:46

The Honorable Lindsey Graham
290 Russell Senate Office Building
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Senator Graham:

The Congressional Quarterly recently reported that you stated, “Social Security’s going to go broke.  We should put it on the table to save it from bankruptcy.”

However, this is not the case. The Social Security trustees’ projections show that Social Security will maintain full solvency through the year 2036. Even if Congress never makes any changes to the program, Social Security will always be able to pay close to 80 percent of scheduled benefits from then on. This means that when you retire in 2021, you will receive $33,120 a year (in 2010 dollars). After 2036, you would still receive $24,840 a year in Social Security benefits for the rest of your life.

From the context of the article, “the table” that you’re referring to is negotiations over the national debt and budget deficits.  In terms of Social Security 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 its trust fund. It has no legal authority to spend one dime beyond this sum. In that sense it cannot contribute to the deficit.

As the discussion over Social Security continues, I hope you and your staff will have the opportunity to further review the design and finances of Social Security. This week I published a primer that you may find useful: “7 Things You Need to Know About the National Debt, Deficits, and the Dollar.”  If you would like any additional background on the program, I would be happy to assist you.

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