Joe Biden’s well-received acceptance speech for the Democratic presidential nomination Thursday night may have emphasized his differences with President Donald Trump —with a heavy focus on personal traits such as compassion, trust and moral character — but Biden also touched on some of his proposals on key policy issues, including Social Security, health care and taxes.
Here’s what Biden said and what you should know about it.
What Biden said: “For our seniors, Social Security is a sacred obligation, a sacred promise made,” Biden said. “The current president is threatening to break that promise. He's proposing to eliminate the tax that pays for almost half of Social Security without any way of making up for that lost revenue. I will not let it happen. If I'm your president, we're going to protect Social Security and Medicare. You have my word.”
What you should know: Earlier this month, as part of his effort to unilaterally provide economic relief from the coronavirus pandemic, Trump ordered the deferral of employee’s share of payroll taxes dedicated to Social Security for the remainder of the year. The payroll tax, which is split between employer and employee, covers nearly 90% of the cost of Social Security, according to government data reported by FactCheck.org. Last year, the tax produced about $945 billion; the deferral ordered by Trump would reduce the total this year by about $100 billion over the next four months, according to an analysis by the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.
While the White House has claimed that deferral would in no way harm Social Security, with the lost revenues through December made up for from general funds, Trump has repeatedly said that he wants to eliminate the payroll tax altogether: “If I’m victorious on November 3rd, I plan to forgive these taxes and make permanent cuts to the payroll tax. So I’m going to make them all permanent,” he said on August 8.
William Hoagland of the Bipartisan Policy Center says that a temporary cut to the payroll tax wouldn’t destroy Social Security, although it could move up the depletion date for the Social Security trust funds by a year or two. But if Trump were to “make permanent cuts to the payroll tax,” as he has promised to do, it would indeed represent an existential threat to the Social Security system.
For his part, Biden is proposing to boost revenues for the Social Security system and increase benefits for some beneficiaries. Workers would have to start paying payroll taxes on income over $400,000 (the tax currently applies only to the first $137,700). And beneficiaries would see higher minimum payment levels, an increase in survivor benefits and a 5% boost for those who have received benefits for more than 20 years.
What Biden said: Biden took aim at the tax cuts Republicans passed in 2017, referring to “the president’s $1.3 trillion tax giveaway to the wealthiest 1% and the biggest, most profitable corporations, some of which do not pay any tax at all.”
What you should know: Biden has promised to roll back some of those cuts by raising taxes on households making more than the $400,000 and hiking the corporate tax rate from 21% to 28%.
Fact checkers note that the majority of households received a tax cut from the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, with 65% of households paying less to the IRS in 2018 than they would have otherwise. But the cuts were considerably larger at higher income levels, and when the individual provisions of the legislation expire in 2026, the majority of the benefits — 82.8%, according to an analysis by the Tax Policy Center — will flow to the top 1%.
What Biden said: Biden warned that Trump’s “assault on the Affordable Care Act will continue until its destroyed, taking insurance away from more than 20 million people -- including more than 15 million people on Medicaid -- and getting rid of the protections that President Obama and I passed for people who suffer from a pre-existing condition.” Biden said that he wants to develop “a health care system that lowers premiums, deductibles, and drug prices by building on the Affordable Care Act [Trump is] trying to rip away.”
What you should know: Most experts agree that the Trump administration’s effort to have the Affordable Care Act overturned — arguments will be heard in the Supreme Court shortly after the election — would, if successful, result in upwards of 20 million people losing their insurance and eliminate the protections provided for people with pre-existing conditions. While Republicans have insisted that they are in fact protecting those with pre-existing conditions, there have taken no concrete steps to do so, while pursuing repeal efforts that would eliminate those protections.
Biden also said that as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, “more than 10 million people are going to lose their health insurance this year.” While the number is an accurate estimate, the majority of those people are expected to pick up coverage from other sources, including family members, Medicaid or the federal marketplaces established by the Affordable Care Act. The Urban Institute estimates that about 2.9 million people will be left without health insurance after those transitions are accounted for.