Sen. Johnson: 'I Did Call Social Security a Legal Ponzi Scheme, Because It Is'

When asked about White House criticism of his views on Social Security, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.) said that Social Security is a legal Ponzi scheme but he never wanted “to cut it or end it.” He added that the federal government’s “out of control debt and deficit spending” are hurting the program.

On Fox Business Tonight, Feb. 10, co-host Elizabeth MacDonald asked Senator Johnson, “The White House is now attacking you for saying Social Security should be privatized. We had showed video of then-Senator Biden since 1975, demanding legislation to cut Social Security, Medicare, even VA benefits. The White House says you called Social Security a “legal Ponzi scheme.” What’s your reaction?”

Johnson replied, “Well, first of all, that’s true. I did call Social Security a legal Ponzi scheme, because it is. I’ve never talked about privatizing it. I’ve never said I wanted to cut it or end it or put it on the chopping block.”

“What I have said is the greatest threat to Social Security is our out of control debt and deficit spending,” added Johnson.  “That is what we need to get under control and I have talked about what we ought to do is put everything together on the budget so we can start prioritizing spending and, of course, Social Security spending, Medicare, Medicaid, VA spending, Defense spending would be top priorities.”

“So we’ve got to get spending under control,” said Johnson. “We have to reduce deficits, we have to take our debt seriously. And, quite honestly, we’ve got to be looking at everything and start prioritizing spending.”


A Ponzi scheme is essentially a fraud whereby people pay into a fund and then receive regular earnings or “dividends” from the fund. But the dividends are not based on actual earnings, like a real stock investment.  They come from recruiting more investors and their money into the fund to pay dividends.

One of the most famous Ponzi schemes of late 20th/early 21st century was run by New York criminal financier Bernard Madoff. His Ponzi scheme lasted several decades and at the end $64.8 billion was missing from client accounts. 

During his 2015 senatorial campaign, Johnson talked about the perilous nature of Social Security. “People have been paying into the system for decades as they have been working, but that money has not been put into an account with their name,” he said. “That money is gone, it has been spent, paid to current beneficiaries.”

As reported by the Ashland Daily Press, Johnson explained that the so-called Social Security trust fund is filled with government IOUs.  “It is not a solvent system,” sai dJohnson. “We need to recognize that, and that is the first step towards solving the problem.”

According to the Trustees of the Social Security and Medicare trust funds, “Social Security and Medicare both face long-term financing shortfalls under currently scheduled benefits and financing.”

For instance, based on the trustees’ estimates, “The Old-Age and Survivors Insurance (OASI) Trust Fund, which pays retirement and survivors benefits, will be able to pay scheduled benefits on a timely basis until 2034, one year later than reported last year. At that time, the fund’s reserves will become depleted and continuing tax income will be sufficient to pay 77 percent of scheduled benefits.” (Emphasis added.) 

Also, “The Hospital Insurance (HI) Trust Fund, or Medicare Part A, which helps pay for services such as inpatient hospital care, will be able to pay scheduled benefits until 2028, two years later than reported last year. At that time, the fund’s reserves will become depleted and continuing total program income will be sufficient to pay 90 percent of total scheduled benefits.” (Emphasis added.) 


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