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Home Publications Blogs Beat the Press Another Ill-Informed Front Page Washington Post Editorial on Social Security

Another Ill-Informed Front Page Washington Post Editorial on Social Security

Friday, 24 September 2010 04:57

The Washington Post ran another front page editorial calling for cuts to Social Security. The context was a discussion of the Republicans' "Pledge to America." The editorial complained that the plan did not include any concrete ways to deal with Social Security.

It then suggested that three ways that the Republicans should look to put the system into long-term balance: "raising the Social Security retirement age, changing the cost-of-living formula, offering personal or private accounts." The first two measures are ones that are strongly supported by the Post editorial board (hence their appearance in this front page editorial), but strongly opposed by the vast majority of the public.

Insofar as it is necessary to address a funding gap (projections from the Congressional Budget Office show the program is fully solvent for the next 29 years with no changes whatsoever), polls show that the public overwhelmingly favors raising the cap on income subject to the payroll tax. Currently, high income workers only pay the Social Security tax on their first $106,000 in wages. Polls also show that the public much prefers even an increase in the tax rate itself to the cuts pushed by the Post editorial board.

It is also worth noting that offering private accounts is not a route toward improving the program's finances. Private accounts worsen the finances of Social Security by pulling money out of the system. This would be like a family facing budget problems deciding to buy a new car to help the situation. Private accounts may be an effective way to get fee income to Wall Street banks, but they do not help the finances of Social Security.

The article also reports on the Republicans calls for a "full accounting" of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. It would have been appropriate to point out that there is already a very full accounting of these programs. The trustees of both Social Security and Medicare issue lengthy accounts of the programs' finances each year. (They do refuse to disclose the documents that provide the basis for these projections. However, the Republicans did not imply that they would make these public.) The Congressional Budget Office does regular analyses of all three programs. The Government Accountability Office also periodically evaluates specific issues connected with these programs on request from members of Congress as does the Congressional Research Service. In addition, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Research does extensive analysis of Medicare and Medicaid, along with other government health care programs.

In this context, the Republican call for a "full accounting" would appear to be a quest for a pointless government bureaucracy that would duplicate work already being done. A serious news article would have called attention to the Republicans' push for needless bureaucracy.

Comments (4)Add Comment
written by izzatzo, September 24, 2010 8:05
I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of Austerity, and to the Republicans for which it stands, one nation under Christian Manhood, indivisible, with liberty, justice and full accounting for all except lobbyists, the rich and corporations as persons.
its all greek to some
written by frankenduf, September 24, 2010 8:07
they want a "full accounting"- maybe this is a request to make the analysis in comic book form- after all, how many grizzly bear mommas u know who can read and functionally understand a CBO document?
written by diesel, September 24, 2010 11:30
Baker, why are you always fogging the air and numbing people's minds with statistics and poll results? You know that the Founding Fathers were skeptical of democracy, which they equated with mob rule. The Constitution makes no mention of rule by plebiscite. Who cares what the people think? As the second line of the Pledge puts it, "America is an Idea". An Idea of freedom, prosperity and community is the proposed pledge. Confabulations don't need to be fleshed out with polls. Polls only dim the luster of the shining Idea by calling attention to the actual gritty world of effort and less than perfect results. Let go your skeptical numeracy and allow yourself to be baptized in the pure sparkling stream of rhetoric flowing from the alabaster font of the Idea of America.
written by Queen of Sheba, September 24, 2010 3:12
Neither the Washington Post nor the members of congress care at all what the public thinks. If they hadn't made it clear during the health care reform debate, this week proved it quite convincingly with the decision not to vote on extending the Bush tax cuts. Regardless that 72% of the country wanted the cuts to expire on the top 2% and stay in place for the rest of us, and regardless of what good politics the vote would have been for the Democrats, they punted.

It would be insane to believe the cap on FICA might be raised, especially by this congress or the one we're liable to get next, or be mentioned in a WaPo article, never mind what the public desires.

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About Beat the Press

Dean Baker is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C. He is the author of several books, his latest being The End of Loser Liberalism: Making Markets Progressive. Read more about Dean.