How A Terrible Debate Question Helped Paul Ryan Mislead About Social Security

During last night’s debate, Vice Presidential nominee Paul Ryan told 24 lies during his 40 minutes of speaking time. But in one instance, he was aided by debate moderator Martha Raddatz, who asserted that Social Security “is going broke”:

RADDATZ: Let’s talk about Medicare and entitlements. Both Medicare and Social Security are going broke and taking a larger share of the budget in the process. Will benefits for Americans under these programs have to change for the programs to survive? Mr. Ryan.

RYAN: Absolutely. Medicare and Social Security are going bankrupt. These are indisputable facts.

Watch it:

The media consistently fuel the misconception that Social Security is bankrupt or going broke, whipping itself into a frenzy of doomsday scenarios and asking politicians when they will deal with this supposedly grave threat to the U.S. budget. However, Social Security can pay full benefits until 2037, and nearly full benefits for years after that, even if literally nothing is done to change the program. Reporters would surely be shocked if infrastructure projects, child nutrition programs, or any other federal effort were fully funded for more than two decades, but no credit is given to lawmakers for achieving just that with Social Security.


Furthermore, Social Security is statutorily barred from adding to the deficit: the program can’t add to the gap between revenue and spending. Plus, one very simple tweak — lifting the cap on the payroll tax so that it is applied to more of the wealthiest Americans’ income — would ensure that Social Security can pay full benefits for more than 70 years.

As Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has said, “Social Security has not added a single penny, not a dime, a nickel, a dollar to the budget problems we have. Never has. And for the next 30 years, it won’t do that.” But Ryan consistently raises alarm about the program in an effort to promote his desire to privatize it entirely. In this instance, Raddatz helped him spread his misinformation with her abysmal framing of the question.