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Where the Candidates Stand on Social Security

Each presidential election season, AARP reaches out to the candidates from the Republican and Democratic parties to talk with us about the issues important to you. Both President Trump and former Vice President Biden graciously agreed to live phone interviews, which took place in late August. We allowed the candidates to present their views and positions without commenting on the accuracy of their claims. The interviews were edited for clarity and length.

Both candidates were eager and engaged in our conversations. For the record, the candidates' responses should not be interpreted as an AARP endorsement of any given policy position. AARP is nonpartisan and neither supports nor opposes candidates for office.

But what AARP strongly believes in is your right to vote, and the importance of exercising that right. To help, we've created how-to-vote guides for 53 U.S. states and territories. You can also go to aarp.org/election2020 for full election coverage, including AARP's positions on key issues.

President Trump
President Trump was asked the following questions:

More than half of all retired Americans rely on Social Security for at least half of their income. If reelected, how will you ensure that Social Security benefits are not cut?

TRUMP: We'll never cut Social Security, and you can rely on that. One thing you need is a strong country. We had a really strong country until we had the pandemic, the China virus. We were doing a level that we've never done before and Social Security was strong, and our country was strong. Right now, we're coming back. I'm looking at numbers now that look like the best quarter ever in terms of hiring people. I will tell you that we will never cut our Social Security. We will guard it with everything we have.

You have said you would like to “terminate the payroll tax” if you win reelection. As you know, payroll taxes fund Social Security and Medicare. How would you finance these programs without payroll taxes?

TRUMP: Providing a payroll tax deferral [which an Aug. 8 executive order permits] poses no risk to the Social Security trust fund and puts more money in the pockets of hardworking Americans.

Former Vice-President Biden
Former Vice-President Biden was asked the following questions:

More than half of all retired Americans rely on Social Security for at least half of their income. If elected, how will you ensure that Social Security benefits are not cut?

BIDEN: First of all, by making sure that President Trump doesn't get reelected. You saw what he said on the 12th of August: “We will be terminating the payroll tax after I hopefully get reelected.” Social Security's actuary predicted that would end Social Security by mid-2023.

I will strengthen it. What I would do is change the program for long-term solvency and increase the benefits going to widows and widowers from the steep cuts in benefits that occur; when the one who is getting the biggest payment passes, the payment drops.

I would not change payroll taxes for anyone earning less than $400,000, but everybody making more than that will pay the same payroll tax on wages over $400,000 as they pay on their first $137,000. The estimates are that Social Security will be secure for a long, long time and allow us to actually increase, not decrease, payments to seniors who have outlived their savings.

So there would be a payroll tax gap between $137,700 [the income threshold in 2020 at which you no longer pay payroll taxes] and $400,000?

BIDEN: Yes, that's right. We could easily do this. The burden on someone making $3 million having to pay into Social Security at the same rate as you making $50,000? It is fair. It is affordable. It solves a gigantic social problem and it gives absolute assurance. There are ways to pay for it just by being fair. It's time that people start paying their fair share. We're not punishing anybody.

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