Fact Check

Did Biden Twice Vote To Tax Social Security While in the Senate?

A meme circulating on social media lacked historical context.

Published Sept. 14, 2020

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During his time in the U.S. Senate, Joe Biden cast two votes 10 years apart — one of them the deciding vote — in favor of legislation that taxed Social Security income.
What's True

While serving as a U.S. senator representing Delaware, Joe Biden voted for two pieces of legislation — once in 1983 and once in 1993 — that resulted in taxing some Social Security income of some recipients. However ...

What's False

Biden did not cast the "deciding vote" in either case. The legislation passed in 1983 made up to half of Social Security income taxable only for individuals making more than $25,000, or couples making $32,000; also, the vote was bipartisan and was signed into law by U.S. President Ronald Reagan, a Republican. The second piece of legislation, in 1993, passed largely along party lines and was signed by Democratic President Bill Clinton.

In early September 2020, Snopes readers asked for verification of a meme circulating on social media that stated Democratic U.S. presidential nominee Joe Biden had voted in 1983 and 1993 to make Social Security taxable income — reportedly casting the deciding vote in 1993. 

An example of the copy-pasted text that circulated of Facebook read as follows:

Prior to 1983, social security was not taxable. In 1983, Joe Biden voted in favor of taxing 50% of social security - and it passed. In 1993, Joe Biden doubled down and was the deciding vote in raising the percentage taxed on social security from 50% to 85%. Joe Biden is not a friend to working folks - and certainly not to retirees. His voting record on social security over the years is one slap in the face to retirees after another. 

It's true that Social Security wasn't taxable income before the 1983 legislation went into effect. It's also true that then-U.S. Sen. Biden, representing Delaware, voted in both 1983 and 1993 in favor of making some Social Security income taxable for some recipients. But the meme left out key context.

In 1983, Congress passed H.R. 1900, which was hashed out by a bipartisan committee and designed to ensure Social Security's solvency. The bill was signed into law by President Ronald Reagan, a Republican.

As CQ Almanac reported in 1983, the law made significant changes to the government-funded retirement system, namely making up to 50% of benefits taxable for single recipients who made more than $25,000, or $32,000 for married couples filing taxes jointly:

Congress also agreed to make fundamental changes in the program by taxing for the first time benefits of high-income recipients and by using transfers from the general Treasury to help bolster the system's trust funds. It also voted to bring new federal employees, members of Congress, the president, the vice president and federal judges under the Social Security system.

Biden voted to pass the legislation, along with 47 Republicans and 40 other Democrats.

The second piece of legislation passed in 1993 was not bipartisan — however, Biden did not cast the "deciding vote." The 1993 Omnibus Budget-Reconciliation Act took aim at reducing the federal deficit and relied heavily on tax increases to do so, "making it anathema to Republicans and bitter medicine even for [U.S. President Bill] Clinton's own party," CQ Almanac reported at the time.

It passed the Senate on nearly partisan lines, with no Republicans voting for it and six Democrats voting against it. Garnering a tie vote in the Senate, it was Vice President Al Gore who cast the deciding vote, before it was signed into law by Clinton, a Democrat.

The legislation increased the portion of taxable Social Security income from up to 50% to up to 85% for individuals making more than $25,000 and married couples earning more than $32,000. In other words, the higher percentage of Social Security income taxed only applied to higher-income beneficiaries, according to the Social Security Administration. "Beneficiaries of modest incomes might still be subject to the 50% rate, or to no taxation at all, depending on their overall taxable income."

We reached out to the Biden campaign for comment but didn't hear back in time for publication. We also reached out to the Social Security Administration for comment but didn't get a response in time for publication.

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SSA.gov.   "Summary of P.L. 98-21, (H.R. 1900) Social Security Amendments of 1983-Signed on April 20, 1983."     Accessed on 11 September 2020.

CQ Almanac.   "Social Security Rescue Plan Swiftly Approved."     1983.

CQ Almanac.   "Deficit-Reduction Bill Narrowly Passes."     1993.

Watson, Garrett.   "Biden's Proposal Would Shift the Distribution of Retirement Tax Benefits."     Tax Foundation.   26 August 2020.

Bethania Palma is a journalist from the Los Angeles area who has been working in the news industry since 2006.