Retirement Security:

The Social Security Wild Card

Published: Jan 1, 1988. Publicly Released: Jan 1, 1988.


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This article, which appeared in the GAO Journal, No. 4, Winter 1988, discusses maintaining the Social Security Program and Trust Fund surpluses. As a result of increases in payroll taxes, the Trust Fund is now building a surplus at a rate exceeding $100 million daily. However, in implementing deficit-reduction legislation, Congress used the Trust Fund to mask the actual budget deficit. Continued use of the funds for this purpose would require increasing payroll taxes, reversing of expanded benefits, or raising the retirement age. Policymakers consider the surplus the federal budget wild card, since they can use it: (1) as intended, in preparation for future benefits; (2) to mask budget deficits; (3) to pay for expanded benefits for Social Security recipients; or (4) to cut payroll taxes to reduce the surplus.

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