IBEW leader blows the whistle on Trump plan to cut Social Security
Lonnie Stephenson, seen here with Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, is blowing a loud and clear whistle on Trump's plan to kill Social Security. | Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP

WASHINGTON—The Alliance for Retired Americans and the Electrical Workers (IBEW) are blowing a loud whistle on GOP President Donald Trump’s threat to the financial future of Social Security.

Let him get away with it, they warn, and the chances for a sane and secure retirement for millions would slide downhill.

And Social Security’s chief actuary, according to a top pro-Social Security activist, predicts that if Trump cuts off the cash Social Security needs to send out its monthly checks, the end could come as soon as 2023.

The threat, say IBEW President Lonnie Stephenson and ARA Executive Director Richard Fiesta, was buried in Trump’s comments when he unveiled an executive order on August 8 mandating businesses stop withholding payroll taxes through the end of 2021.

Trump wants to boost corporate cash flows which have been cut, he claims, by closures due to the coronavirus pandemic. Trump’s payroll tax cut edict got a cool reception even from his own GOP allies on Capitol Hill and it hasn’t been implemented yet.

But what Richard Fiesta, the Alliance’s executive director, and Lonnie Stephenson, IBEW’s president, noticed was Trump’s accompanying statement that he would continue the non-withholding after December 31.

“If I’m victorious on November 3rd, I plan to forgive these taxes and make permanent cuts to the payroll tax,” Trump told a news conference on that executive order and others. “In other words, I’ll extend beyond the end of the year and terminate the tax.”

Trump’s proposed budget for fiscal 2021, which starts Oct. 1, sent to Congress before the coronavirus pandemic hit, calculates the government would collect $1.011 trillion in payroll taxes that fiscal year. That money, plus investment interest from government bonds, goes for Social Security payments. The budget calculates payments would total $1.251 trillion.

If payroll tax revenue is cut to zero, even for three months, Social Security is in a deeper hole. It becomes a chasm if Social Security misses an entire year of payroll tax revenue.

That set off alarm bells for Stephenson and Fiesta, and especially for Social Security Chief Actuary Richard Goss, according to Alex Lawson of Social Security Works.

“Trump’s executive order, which seeks to defer Social Security contributions, is bad enough,” the IBEW leader said. “But his promise to ‘terminate’ FICA (payroll tax) contributions if he is reelected is a full-on declaration of war against current and future Social Security beneficiaries,” Stephenson added.

“Before Social Security, the poorest people in this country were the elderly. Now with pensions disappearing and inadequate 401(k)s the rule, Social Security is often the only income many older Americans can rely on. It’s the line between aging with dignity and spending your final years in squalor.”

“Donald Trump has spent 2020 telling the American public that he wants to cut Social Security and Medicare,” Fiesta said, harkening back to a televised Trump interview during a summit of world leaders in January.

“It’s past time to start taking him literally and seriously—no matter how many times his advisers go on TV to do damage control and spin their way out of it.

“Maya Angelou famously said, ‘When someone tells you who they are, believe them.’ Older Americans have heard time and again from President Trump, through his words and his actions, that he will cut Social Security and Medicare. Seniors—and everyone who hopes for a secure retirement—must remember this when they cast their ballots in November.”

Goss was even more apocalyptic, Lawson said.

“Goss’s letter states that if Social Security’s funding were terminated, as Trump has repeatedly proposed, that Social Security’s Disability Insurance trust fund would be depleted by 2021, and the Old Age and Survivors Insurance trust fund would be left ‘with no ability to pay benefits’ after 2023,” Lawson reported in what admittedly is a fundraising email.

OASI is the main Social Security fund, which pays benefits to millions of senior citizens.

Lawson reported his group is working with four senators, including Bernie Sanders, Ind-Vt., and Chris Von Hollen, D-Md., to stop Trump’s scheme. He appealed for funds to help the effort. And he appealed to voters to stop Trump at the polls this fall.

“Donald Trump has shown himself to be the ‘damn politician’ FDR warned about: One who would rob Americans of their ‘moral, legal, and political rights’ to Social Security.

“By instructing the IRS to defer collecting Social Security contributions for up to a year, he can fully defund and destroy Social Security’s disability insurance, provoking an immediate crisis that could force legislation cutting benefits or privatizing the program.

“Let’s be clear: Social Security is on the ballot this November…If he’s reelected, our Social Security system is his next target. Everyone should listen to Social Security’s independent Chief Actuary and alert your friends and family: If Donald Trump wins reelection, Social Security will be at his mercy,” Lawson concluded.


CONTRIBUTOR

Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.

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