On the same trip to southern Virginia, Mr. Biden wandered into the Coffee Break Cafe in Stuart. According to the White House pool report, when a diner there said, “I’m glad you all are not talking about doing anything with Social Security,” Mr. Biden responded: “Hey, by the way, let’s talk about Social Security. Number one, I guarantee you, flat guarantee you, there will be no changes in Social Security. I flat guarantee you.”
Why is this so depressing? Because, as Mr. Biden knows, Social Security is going broke. If “no changes” are made, then by 2033 the program will not be able to pay benefits as promised.
Is “going broke” too strong? Well, let’s ask the experts — the trustees of the Social Security Trust Fund, who include President Obama’s Treasury, labor, and health and human services secretaries. In their annual report in April — delivered, as it happens, to Mr. Biden, in his capacity as Senate president — the trustees noted that the disability portion of the trust fund “becomes exhausted in 2016, so legislative action is needed as soon as possible.” The overall fund, combining retirement and disability, will “become exhausted and unable to pay scheduled benefits in full on a timely basis in 2033.” That leaves Congress with four choices, the trustees explained: raise the payroll tax, reduce benefits, devote other revenue to Social Security or some combination of the above.