Donald Trump Is Undermining Social Security – Will Democrats Stop Him?

Donald Trump’s plan to suspend the collection of the payroll tax risks both the financial well-being of workers and Social Security. Instead of outsourcing the case against Trump to Republican opponents of Social Security in the Lincoln Project, Democrats need to stand up for popular social programs.

Donald Trump speaks during a news conference at the White House on September 4. (Drew Angerer / Getty Images)

Donald Trump’s latest tax scam is his most dangerous yet. Based on an executive order, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) will suspend collecting Social Security payroll tax from workers earning less than $4,000 every two weeks, or $104,000 per year. More than one million federal employees will automatically see this change in their September paychecks, while private sector employers will have the option to participate. These workers will see their take-home pay rise by 6.2 percent until the end of the year.

But like many of Donald Trump’s financial dealings, this is nothing more than a bait and switch for workers that will end up costing them even more down the road.

In May, I wrote that no one should be fooled by Donald Trump’s then-proposed payroll tax cut. It was simply a back door to slashing Social Security benefits down the road. His administration’s new policy is far more dangerous. It is not a back-door attack on Social Security, but instead a full-frontal assault on the financial well-being of working people and the programs they rely on.

The program Trump is implementing isn’t simply a tax holiday — he can’t do that without congressional approval. They are instead simply deferring collection of the tax that funds our Social Security system. In essence this is an involuntary loan that next year the IRS will begin collecting right out of people’s paychecks. Their take-home pay won’t just return to its original amount, it will shrink even further as the IRS claws back even more funds to cover the deferred payments from this year.

Next year, Congress or the new administration will be given a choice: continue this deferment or risk violating the shibboleth of not raising taxes on people earning less than $250,000 per year as their first act in office. (Biden has recently pledged not to raise taxes on anyone earning under $400,000.)

Fail to recoup this money and Social Security’s financial solvency will be put at risk almost immediately, leading to cuts in both disability funds and ultimately payments for the elderly.

Nancy Altman, who has been one of the foremost experts and chief advocates against Social Security cuts for decades explained,

According to estimates from the independent chief actuary of the Social Security Administration, if all Social Security contributions from payroll tax stopped on Jan. 1, 2021, the nearly 10 million people today getting Social Security Disability Insurance benefits, which averages about $1,125 every month, would see them stop abruptly in the middle of 2021. Those 55 million receiving Social Security Old-Age and Survivors Insurance benefits, which average around $1,440 a month, would see them disappear two years later. Social Security would be without money to pay benefits by 2023.

Trump, in order to pretend he is giving workers a tax cut as Election Day approaches, has set an inescapable time bomb.

Option 1: See your take-home pay dramatically shrink just as 2021 begins. 

Choice 2: Cut Social Security, the only safety net many families have keeping the elderly and the disabled from living in poverty.

Trump’s decision to move down this path and the chaos it will inevitably develop in its wake does create an opportunity. His egomaniacal desire to be seen as delivering a tax cut to the middle class before Election Day means he has laid his hands on the third rail of American politics.

There is a reason that every politician who has touched it has not walked away unscathed.

This offers politicians who want to defend Social Security with a line of attack that is easily converted into thirty-second attack ads. Instead of outsourcing the case against Trump to Republican opponents of Social Security in the Lincoln Project, Democrats can now stand up for a popular social program. “Donald Trump is trying to destroy Social Security. We will protect it.”

It’s a simple appeal, but one that many establishment Democrats might choose to forego.