Missing From Biden’s Budget: His Plan for Social Security

To improve America’s retirement system, “the most important policy change is to put Social Security and Medicare on stable financial footing,” a pair of academic economists who have served in Democratic administrations, Martin N. Baily and Benjamin Harris, wrote in a new book, “The Retirement Challenge.”

Mr. Baily was the chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers under President Bill Clinton. Mr. Harris is an assistant Treasury secretary under Mr. Biden and was an architect of his campaign economic platform, though he wrote his portions of the retirement book as a professor at Northwestern University. “The hardest policy shift is also the most important: increasing payroll tax revenues,” they wrote in the book.

Publicly, administration officials say they are protecting the program simply by not cutting it.

“I would love to be in the part of the debate where we can have serious discussions about proposals,” Shalanda D. Young, the White House budget director, told reporters on Thursday. “The No. 1 threat to Social Security and benefits for folks like my 94-year-old grandmother is those on the other side of the aisle who said they want to cut benefits. That’s why this budget takes the position that that is not on the table.”

Budget hawks attacked Mr. Biden for failing to go further. They said his inaction left the program vulnerable to an across-the-board benefit cut of as much as 20 percent if the trust fund runs out of money in 2034 as currently forecast.

“By failing to suggest increases in Social Security revenues or adjustments and reforms to future benefits in his budget, the president is implicitly endorsing the 20 percent benefit cut plan while claiming to be the protector of the program and attacking those who suggest we make changes,” said Maya MacGuineas, the president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget in Washington.

Republicans criticized Mr. Biden’s budget, saying it spends and taxes too much. They have refused to lift the nation’s statutory borrowing limit unless the president agrees to steep cuts in federal spending.

But they were largely silent on his lack of a Social Security plan, with good reason: Speaker Kevin McCarthy of California and other Republican leaders, under withering attacks from the president, have vowed not to touch the program as part of budget talks.