PolitiFact Wrongly Lets Biden Off the Hook: The Truth About Social Security Cuts

Yves here. It is striking how much Biden is able to misrepresent his record. Uncritical media coverage will do that.

By Alex Lawson, the executive director of Social Security Works, a non-profit advocacy group that supports expanding benefits to address America’s growing retirement security crisis. Lawson has appeared on numerous TV and radio outlets and is a frequent guest host of The Thom Hartmann Program, one of the top progressive radio shows in the country. Produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute

Recently, a newsletter from the Bernie Sanders campaign laid out Joe Biden’s long record of supporting cuts to Social Security. The website PolitiFact weighed in on one part of that record, a speech Biden gave in 2018 in which he expressed enthusiasm for former House Speaker Paul Ryan’s plans to cut Social Security.

PolitiFact wrongly ranked the statement from the Sanders newsletter as “false” because they willfully refused to understand what Biden said in the speech—and how it represents decades of Washington establishment consensus on cutting the American people’s earned Social Security and Medicare benefits.

In the speech, Biden says, “we need to do something about Social Security and Medicare” and that Social Security “needs adjustments.” Biden did not elaborate on what these “adjustments” were, but a look at his long history on Social Security is telling.

In the 1980s, Biden sponsored a plan to freeze all federal spending, including Social Security. In the 1990s, Biden was a leading supporter of a balanced budget amendment, a policy that the Center for American Progress and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (two center-left think tanks who are hardly in the tank for Bernie Sanders) agree would be a catastrophe for Social Security.

More recently, Biden led “grand bargain” negotiations with Republicans during his time as vice president. This “grand bargain” would have given Republicans structural, permanent cuts to Social Security in return for tax increases on the wealthy that would be rolled back as soon as a Republican president got elected to office.

Time and time again, Biden kept coming back to the negotiating table, insisting that Republicans were dealing in good faith. Ultimately, the grand bargain fell through only because of hardline House Republicans refusing to make even an incredibly lopsided deal. Biden was fully prepared to make a deal that included Social Security cuts, including reducing future cost-of-living increases by implementing a chained CPI.

When Washington politicians talk about Social Security cuts, they almost always use coded language, saying that they want to “change,” “adjust,” or even “save” the program. That’s because cutting Social Security is incredibly unpopular with voters of all political stripes. When corporate-friendly politicians like Biden use those words, they are trying to signal to elite media and billionaire donors that they are “very serious people” who are open to cutting Social Security benefits, without giving away the game to voters.

One of those billionaires, Pete Peterson, spent almost half a billion dollars on a decades-long crusade to destroy Social Security and Medicare. Peterson died in 2018, but his money lives on in the form of think tanks like the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget (CRFB), which relentlessly advocate for benefit cuts while insisting that they are neutral arbiters because they are “non-partisan.”

Non-partisan and non-ideological are two very different things, but the media has an unfortunate tendency to treat them as one and the same. The CRFB and similar groups are zealously committed to an ideology of cutting the American people’s earned benefits. PolitiFact quotes a CRFB staffer to back up their article, without providing readers with any context about CRFB’s ideology or speaking to an expert opposed to Social Security cuts.

It’s easy for people in a D.C. elite bubble, working for think tanks or newspaper editorial boards, to support cutting Social Security. Cushioned by billionaire money, they have no idea what it’s like to live on the average Social Security benefit of less than $18,000 a year.

But in the rest of the country, it’s a very different story. People love Social Security, the only thing keeping their grandparents, their friend with a disability, and their young neighbors who recently lost a parent out of poverty. Grassroots activists across the country, working with congressional champions like Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, put pressure on Democratic politicians and changed the conversation on Social Security.

After years of hard work, Democrats are united in support of expanding, not cutting, Social Security. Ninety percent of House Democrats are co-sponsors of the Social Security 2100 Act, and every major Democratic presidential candidate has a plan to expand Social Security.

That includes Biden, who has disavowed benefit cuts and is running on a plan to modestly expand Social Security benefits. Politicians responding to activist pressure is a good thing, and people have the capacity to evolve and change. But Biden continually sows doubt that his change of heart is genuine by continuing to talk about the merits of “sharing power” with Republicans. He says that “there’s an awful lot of really good Republicans,” and has even stated that he’d consider making a Republican his vice president.

Biden doesn’t seem to have changed much from his time as vice president, when he offered Republicans “grand bargains” that included Social Security cuts again and again. At this point, it’s self-evident that the only agenda Republican politicians care about is cutting taxes for their billionaire donors and stealing earned benefits from the American people. When Biden says that he wants to work with them, it suggests that he remains open to that agenda. That’s very concerning for everyone who cares about the future of Social Security and Medicare.

Additionally, Biden’s past support for Social Security cuts is a major vulnerability should he become the Democratic nominee. In the 2016 election, Donald Trump continually promised to protect Social Security and Medicare. That was a lie. But lying has never bothered Trump, and he’ll be happy to use the same playbook in 2020.

There are numerous videos of Joe Biden calling for Social Security cuts. We can expect Trump to blanket Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania with ads containing that footage.

Democrats win when they can draw a clear contrast with Republicans on protecting and expanding our most popular government program, Social Security. Nominating Joe Biden would make that far more difficult than it needs to be.

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  1. Ignacio

    By Spanish political standards Biden would be considered a hard-core conservative, not that far from ultraliberal types. He has nothing to offer except business as usual. He would be a puppet on Trump’s hands.

  2. Paul Hirschman

    Hard to believe any of this recent, very recent, history is still unknown.

    It was the Tea Party that saved Social Security because of its intransigence. Bama/Biden would’ve sold SS down the river had the Tea Party been “reasonable.”

    Strange and uninteresting times these. Boring attacks on truth and common sense social policy. The only fun part of the story is that England is about to throw itself off the American cliff too.

      1. NotTimothyGeithner

        I believe it wasn’t even the commission which couldn’t get that many people to be so openly evil but just Pete Peterson and Alan Simpsons’ personal wish list.

        1. smoker

          Yeah, which Obomber and Biden were more than willing to honor as a valid discussion, as if it wasn’t stunningly cruel and vicious. The word evil, which would have been my first choice of adjectives, appears to have been banned by neoliberals – who now openly adore George Walker Bush – as fundyism™, since George Walker Bush/ Dick Cheney Days; as has moral outrage been banned.

        2. smoker

          Shorter version of my comment in moderation:

          Yep, which Obomber and Biden were more than willing to honor as a valid discussion.

  3. WestcoastDeplorable

    I made a decent income during my prime working years, nevertheless I can testify it’s just not possible to live any kind of a comparable lifestyle solely depending on social security. The fedgov has already trimmed back the COLAs to the point where if hamburger gets pricey, they substitute it with dog food. I’m serious. If any adjustments are made to social security, they need to be double-digit increases, not decreases, and not more of this “chained cpi” crap!

    1. DHG

      I transfer the problem to the bankers, they pay the difference as the cards never will be repaid, I am judgment proof and there are no assets for them to attach legally when I kick off. Salute.

      1. JBird4049

        What COLAs are we talking about? Gas, rent, food, insurance all rise faster than the official rate of inflation and therefore the cost of living increases. It’s an insulting joke and stealth benefit cutting.
        I would think that the mismatch between the COLA and the real rate of inflation is a reason for the mistrust of the government. If the Feds are lying on something that you can easily check either by your experience or by going online, just what else is bull manure?

        Also, just what is it with some people on reforming cutting social security as it really does not pay much. It is also very difficult to get disability even when everything is well documented. I assume that they care about orphans, the disabled, and the old? Almost everyone but the orphans have worked for years and any serious cuts would bring the wrath that would destroy the careers of politicians who voted for them.

        This is almost a rhetorical question, but am I crazy or are the supporters of these “adjustments?”

  4. teacup

    This is precisely why this country is so screwed up. When a so called leader of the left advocates austerity for seniors the end is near. A currency war against your own people. Thanks Joe!

    1. DHG

      The end of this system of things is indeed very very near. I welcome its complete destruction and the installation of Gods rulership on this planet forever.

      1. JBird4049

        Let’s try to forestall the End Times and Armageddon, shall we? I really rather wish that the selfish SOBs ruining things any help, even passively, unless it’s sending them to prison, The Hague, or even just bankruptcy court.

  5. JTMcPhee

    Does any significant fraction of the working class believe anything that comes out of that nether orifice that dares to style itself “Politifacts?” Every piece I have ever read from that hole reeks of the worst kind of Jesuitical subterfuge, happily selecting and shading things until they come up with a pronouncement that serves the PTB.


  6. run75441

    I guess we can add social security to the other issues Biden has been on the wrong side of such as healthcare.

    Having come to Michigan to give praise to Freddie Upton for pushing the 21st Century Cures Act during Congressional elections and probably pushed him across the finish line bay a small margin of votes over the Democratic candidate Matt Longjohn. Fred suffered from that hard work as Commerce Chair taking in $millions in contributions from the healthcare supply and pharma industry. Fewer NIH clinical trials and real world testing.

    Then there are student loans and Biden’s inflexibility on bankruptcy for students since the mid nineties. Of course Biden will tell you how hard he worked and others such as millennials should do so also. Except we have so burdened a segment of the population we have stymie the growth one might expect from graduates entering the consumer market and being successful enough to buy and pay taxes.

    I am sorry Yves, Biden is an a**. This boomer would love to talk to him as I did with Stabenow publicly on the same issue and why she voted for such nonsense.

      1. divadab

        Biden (the Senator from MBNA) co sponsored and pushed through bankruptcy reform during the Clinton regime – under which student debt is not dischargeable in bankruptcy. He’s a prime mover in making students indentured servants of capital.

        Biden is an archetypal neo-liberal prostitute er politician – a salesman for the bankers, a bait and switch, really, the scum of the earth.

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