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Wednesday, May 23, 2018
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Jolly is right: Social Security is not guaranteed

Ads promoting the candidacy of Democrat Alex Sink, the former Bank of America executive and state chief financial officer, continue to misconstrue – employing the politest possible term – Republican David Jolly’s position and statements regarding Social Security, making it sound like he’s all for handing the whole business over to Jordan Belfort or Bernie Madoff.

Instead, what Jolly said is Social Security payments are not guaranteed. They are not, as The Right Stuff noted more than a couple of weeks ago. On the remote chance that readers do not believe everything they read here, TRS is happy to note the findings of an unaffiliated researcher who arrived at precisely the same conclusion.

The researcher is Joshua Gillin of PolitiFact/Florida, and here is the essence of his report:

“[B]eneficiaries could be denied benefits for any reason if Congress passed a law making it so, as long as the change wasn’t arbitrary. The court said Congress had the power to modify the rules, which it has done several times — such as gradually raising the full retirement age over time.

“Political debates over Social Security payouts have been fueled by budget projections illustrating the widening chasm of the program paying out more than it is taking in. A 2005 Congressional Research Service report on Social Security reform pointed out that beneficiaries were not guaranteed “full benefits in the case of a shortfall, unless Congress amends applicable laws.”

“As for Jolly’s statement that the Supreme Court ruled ‘Social Security is not guaranteed,’ the 1960 Flemming vs. Nestor case he cited indeed said that citizens don’t have a right to Social Security benefits, no matter how long they paid into the system. Congress can change the rules how it sees fit, as long as it follows due process.

“We rate the statement True.”

Now, whether it would be foolish for Congress to break its pledge to America’s seniors is another argument entirely, but it’s a debate we cannot decently tackle until we get past the notion that retirees are guaranteed anything. Under the present arrangement, they are not, which is why, faced with one or another government shutdown or the breaching of the debt ceiling less-than-scrupulous Presidents can threaten to hold Social Security checks hostage.

Individual accounts that individuals manage and individuals own – phased in over time with current recipients and those within 10 years of retirement exempted – is one important way to disarm lawmakers quick to play the politics of scare-mongering. Jolly says individual accounts should be on the table. He was right about the guarantee. He’s right about this, too.