Payola columnist Armstrong Williams repeated Social Security misinformation in self-syndicated column
Research ››› ››› SIMON MALOY
Conservative commentator and columnist Armstrong Williams -- whose column was dropped by Tribune Media Services following USA Today's disclosure that the Bush administration paid him $240,000 to promote its No Child Left Behind education policy -- echoed other conservatives' false claims about Social Security in his February 14 self-syndicated column. Williams claimed that "there exists no Social Security surplus;" that Social Security will "collapse" in 2032; and that "[t]he only way to actually solve the problem [of Social Security's solvency] is to transfer our Social Security taxes into privately managed universal savings accounts." In fact, the Social Security trust fund is composed of real assets; the Social Security trustees' date for Social Security's projected insolvency is 2042, at which point it will not "collapse" but would continue to be able to pay out a projected 73 percent of currently promised benefits; and administration officials have acknowledged that private accounts will not address the issue of Social Security's solvency.
Perhaps this is a good time to mention, there exists no Social Security surplus. The social security trust fund is filled with old, yellowed scraps of paper that read, "IOU." So what we're looking at is the impending bankruptcy of the entire Social Security system. Experts predict that on or about the year 2032, the system will collapse.
As Media Matters for America has documented, the oft-repeated claim that the Social Security trust fund is a "myth" is false. The debts that the government owes Social Security are as real and redeemable as all public debts to which the government is obligated. As a January 10 New York Times editorial explained: "If the trust fund's Treasury securities are worthless, someone better tell investors throughout the world, who currently hold $4.3 trillion in Treasury debt that carries the exact same government obligation to pay as the trust fund securities."
Williams also incorrectly stated that Social Security will "collapse" in 2032. As Media Matters has noted, the 2004 Report by the six member Board of Trustees of the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance and Disability Insurance Trust Funds (OASDI) -- which includes three of Bush's cabinet secretaries -- estimates that Social Security's assets will be exhausted in 2042, at which point the system would not "collapse." Instead, tax income would cover 73 percent of Social Security's projected costs. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that the Social Security trust fund could pay out full benefits until 2052, 81 percent of currently scheduled benefits in 2053, and 71 percent in 2100.
Williams also incorrectly claimed that "[t]he only way to actually solve the problem [of Social Security's solvency] is to transfer our Social Security taxes into privately managed universal savings accounts." Even an unnamed "senior administration official" has conceded that diverting payroll taxes into private accounts will not address the issue of Social Security's long-term projected insolvency.
Williams was the first of a series of conservative columnists found to have had undisclosed financial ties to the Bush administration.