The White House is quite put out that Donald Trump’s efforts to destroy Social Security are not being wholly embraced by American businesses. The payroll tax deferment to employees that Trump tried to force through executive order after it was roundly rejected for months by everyone in Congress is just not being deployed, even though plenty of employers have decided to take the employer-side deferment they got earlier this year.
It has Team Trump baffled and angry. “Businesses got their own tax holiday,” National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow said recently. “I don’t know why they don’t want to give their workforce a holiday.” Clearly Kudlow has never been in a position of making payroll. Most large businesses took Congress up on the offer to postpone their part of payroll taxes. It was included in relief legislation to give those businesses incentive to keep people on payroll during the pandemic, and tens of thousands of businesses took them up on it. They will pay half of the deferred taxes at the end of 2021, and the other half at the end of 2022. But they’re betting on the possibility that the next Congress will just forgive that and they’ll end up not having to pay. As it is, though, it’s like getting an interest-free loan from the Treasury, and they’re taking it. Extending it to the employee part of the tax, however, is a much more complicated and problematic prospect.
For one thing the employee has to opt for it, so employers would need to get permission from their workers. That means explaining how the plan would work, including the fact that this is a deferment, and the money will have to be paid anyway by the the end of April next year with larger withholdings from their paychecks starting in January. It would involve tracking which employees decided to do it and which didn’t, tracking who is eligible—only those making less than $4,000 every two weeks—and for employees who make variable pay, doing it every pay period. The other deterrent is that employers would be liable for repaying whatever wasn’t paid in for any worker who quits.
This part of it is where the reporting on this by Politico gets unintentionally horrifying. “Employers,” Politico reports, “fear their employees will be surprised to see suddenly smaller paychecks, and could have trouble meeting their living expenses.” Employers know that they have their employees living on such tight margins that the extra withholding could make meeting their expenses difficult. They are also realistic in recognizing that while chances are good they’ll get Congress to relieve them of the burden of paying back their portion of the taxes, it would be unlikely to extend that courtesy to the entire workforce. Because that’s just how it works in America.
Here’s how UPS explained their decision to take the company holiday but not offer it to employees: “We believe our decision was in the best interest of employees,” said spokesperson Glenn Zaccara. “We recognize that, for some, it may have been helpful to have more money in their paychecks in 2020. […] Yet, not all employees have professional tax planning needed to prepare effectively for the added obligation they would face in 2021.”
That’s not something that Trump is concerned about, and not a burden he wants to spare his own captive workforce from—he’s ordered that federal employees have to take the tax holiday, and you can bet he wouldn’t have any problem docking their pay next year to make it up. (That is if they’re not all furloughed because he’s decided to shut down the government.) The House of Representatives, at least, has refused to go along with it.