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President Ronald Reagan signs the $167 billion dollar Social Security rescue plan during a ceremony on the South Lawn of the White in Washington, April 20, 1983. (AP) President Ronald Reagan signs the $167 billion dollar Social Security rescue plan during a ceremony on the South Lawn of the White in Washington, April 20, 1983. (AP)

President Ronald Reagan signs the $167 billion dollar Social Security rescue plan during a ceremony on the South Lawn of the White in Washington, April 20, 1983. (AP)

Amy Sherman
By Amy Sherman September 14, 2020

What an attack about Biden’s votes on Social Security omits

If Your Time is short

  • In 1983, then-Sen. Biden voted in favor of legislation to allow up to 50% of Social Security benefits to be added to taxable income if the taxpayer’s total income exceeded certain thresholds. The legislation, intended to shore up Social Security, had bipartisan support and was signed by President Ronald Reagan. 

  • In 1993, the Senate along with Biden passed President Bill Clinton’s deficit reduction plan, which required recipients with certain incomes to pay taxes on 85% of their Social Security benefits.

  • In 1993, Vice President Al Gore cast the deciding vote after the Senate split 50-50.

President Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden have attacked each other’s records on Social Security.

Biden’s critics have culled their attacks from decades-old votes Biden made while he was a senator representing Delaware.

"In 1983, Joe Biden voted in favor of taxing 50% of Social Security — and it passed," said a Sept. 7 Facebook post. "In 1993, Joe Biden doubled down and was the deciding vote in raising the percentage taxed on Social Security from 50% to 85%."

The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)

The Senate, including Biden, did vote for those tax changes for Social Security 1983 and 1993. Biden wasn’t the "deciding vote" in 1993. (Read more about Biden’s positions on Social Security over his decades-long career here.)

RELATED: Ad Watch: Biden exaggerates Trump’s Social Security action

"In 1983, Joe Biden voted in favor of taxing 50% of Social Security" 

The Facebook post is correct that Biden voted in favor of changes to Social Security in 1983. The legislation had wide bipartisan support in order to prevent Social Security from running out of money.

When President Ronald Reagan took office in 1981, federal economists warned that the system was in dire financial straits. That prompted Reagan to try to overhaul Social Security by creating a bipartisan commission (known informally as the Greenspan commission).

In 1983, revenues were starting to move below the existing level of benefit payments, said Eugene Steuerle, an Urban Institute economist. 

"Seniors then dependent upon benefits they already had been receiving were threatened with a cut in their existing benefit levels unless Congress enacted some tax increases or benefit cuts, or as provided in the 1983, legislative compromise, some combination," Steuerle said.

The commission’s recommendations led to amendments that authorized the taxation of Social Security. The 1983 legislation required beneficiaries to pay income tax on up to 50% of their benefits if their modified adjusted gross income — which includes one-half of Social Security benefit income — was greater than $25,000 for single individuals and $32,000 for married couples. The legislation also postponed cost of living increases, required federal workers to join the system and gradually raised the retirement age to 67 by 2027.

The legislation passed in March 1983 with bipartisan support, including Biden’s. The Senate passed the legislation 88-9 and then agreed to the conference report 58-14. Reagan signed the legislation

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''By working together in our best bipartisan tradition, 'we have passed reform legislation that brings us much closer to ensuring the integrity of the Social Security System,'' Reagan said.

In 1993, Biden "was the deciding vote in raising the percentage taxed on Social Security from 50% to 85%."

In 1993, President Bill Clinton aimed to reduce the deficit. House and Senate negotiators agreed to increase taxes on high-income Social Security recipients as part of a nearly $500 billion deficit-reduction plan

The bill’s provision on Social Security required recipients with incomes of more than $34,000 for individuals (or $44,000 for couples) to pay taxes on 85% of their benefits, up from 50%. The change affected upper-income and some middle-class retirees. 

The legislation also created a new top income tax bracket of 36% on taxable income above $115,000 (single) and $140,000 (married).

It’s common in political rhetoric to attack a politician as casting the "deciding vote," but that label only applies if the politician was the final holdout or played a particular last-minute role. Biden, who voted in favor of the bill, wasn’t the deciding vote.

Major news outlets reported that Sen. Bob Kerrey, D-Neb., was the last senator to announce his intentions and voted in favor, assuring passage. So in one respect, Kerrey could appropriately be described as having provided the "deciding vote." But that mantle ultimately ended up going to former Vice President Al Gore who, faced with a 50-50 tie in the Senate, cast the deciding vote in favor.

RELATED: Social Security: A critical program with an uncertain future

Our ruling

A Facebook post said that "in 1983, Joe Biden voted in favor of taxing 50% of Social Security" and in 1993, Biden "was the deciding vote in raising the percentage taxed on Social Security from 50% to 85%."

Biden voted for both measures on Social Security in those years, but more context about the legislation and circumstances is needed.

The 1983 legislation allowed up to 50% of benefits to be added to taxable income if a taxpayer’s total income exceeded certain thresholds. The legislation, signed by President Reagan, had wide bipartisan support.

And, yes, Biden voted in favor of 1993 legislation that aimed to reduce the deficit and required some recipients to pay taxes on 85% of their benefits, up from 50% previously. The change affected upper-income and some middle-class retirees. But Biden was not the "deciding vote." Gore as vice president cast the deciding vote after the Senate split 50-50. Kerrey was the last senator to announce his support.

We rate this statement Half True.

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Our Sources

Facebook post, Sept. 7, 2020

Congress.gov, H.R.1900 - Social Security Amendments of 1983, Signed April 20, 1983

U.S. Senate, Roll Call Vote 103rd Congress - 1st Session, Aug. 6, 1993

Social Security, Income Taxes on Social Security Benefits, December 2015

New York Times, Senate approves plan on solvency of Social Security, March 24, 1983

New York Times, Reagan hails plan to Social Security, March 26, 1983

Washington Post, Senate Passes Clinton Budget Bill, 51-50, After Kerrey Reluctantly Casts 'Yes' Vote; Aug. 7, 1993

Houston Chronicle, Nip and tuck: Senate oks deficit reduction, Aug. 7, 1993

New York Times, The budget struggle, Aug. 7, 1993

Los Angeles Times, Clinton budget triumphs, Aug. 7, 1993

AP, Clinton Package Likely to Add Taxes for Retired, Soon-to-be-Retired, Aug. 5, 1993

AP, Taxes old and and new, Aug. 8, 1993

New York Times, Wealthy or Not, Taxpayers Will Find Plenty of Surprises, Aug. 8, 1993

Dallas Morning News, Deficit package moves forward; July 23, 1993

Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, Social Security: It’s Not 1983, April 24, 2012

UPI, United Press International, March 23, 1993

Email interview, Rosemary Boeglin, Joe Biden campaign spokesperson, Sept. 14, 2020

Email interview, William Hoagland, senior vice president, Bipartisan Policy Center, Sept. 11, 2020

Email interview, Eugene Steuerle, economist and cofounder, Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center, Sept. 11, 2020

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What an attack about Biden’s votes on Social Security omits

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