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Home Publications Blogs Beat the Press Fred Hiatt is Holding Head Start Hostage Until Liberals Support Cuts to Social Security and Medicare

Fred Hiatt is Holding Head Start Hostage Until Liberals Support Cuts to Social Security and Medicare

Monday, 17 June 2013 07:04

That is the essence of his column today warning liberals of sharp cuts to domestic discretionary spending (e.g. Head Start, education, infrastructure etc.) unless there are cuts to Medicare and Social Security. Hiatt uses the term "entitlements" since it is less popular than the programs to which it refers.

The basic argument is that Hiatt has decided how large the deficit can be, he has decided that there can be no additional cuts to the military, and that there can be no new taxes ever. Therefore if liberals don't want to see the domestic discretionary portion of the budget contract, then they better accept cuts to Social Security and Medicare.

It's not clear why anyone should accept Hiatt's assessment on any of these points. (He is batting close to 100 percent in the being wrong department. Remember when his gang was warning about budget deficits back in 2006-2007 as the collapse of the housing bubble was about to sink the economy?)

Of course the size of the deficit is not fixed and in the near term larger deficits will foster growth and create jobs. Why should liberals accept that cavemen, who have trouble with math and logic, will forever keep us from getting the economy back to full employment?

As far as the military budget, we were spending 3.0 percent of GDP on the military back in 2000, is there some obvious reason that we can't get back to that level again? Our economy will be more than 50 percent larger in 2020, so 3 percent of 2020 GDP would be 50 percent more spending in real dollars than it was in 2000.

As far as taxes, liberals would obviously prefer progressive tax increases to regressive ones, but polling data consistently show that people across the political spectrum would prefer tax increases to cuts in Social Security and Medicare. In other words, if the budget situation requires that we either make cuts to these programs or raise the taxes needed to pay for them, Democrats, Independents and even Republicans prefer to raise taxes. It is only Washington elite types like Fred Hiatt who want to rule out this option.

Finally, most liberals would be happy to have cuts to Medicare that involve cutting excess payments to providers. We pay more than twice as much per person for our health care as the average for people in other wealthy countries. If we got our costs more in line by cutting payments to drug companies and medical equipment companies, most liberals would be fully on board.

We could also go the route of promoting free trade: allowing Medicare beneficiaries to buy into the more efficient health care systems in other countries and splitting the savings. Unfortunately Hiatt and other Washington elite types become ardent protectionists when the discussion is about trade that could reduce the income of their rich friends.  

So we can see the problem is not inevitable cuts in domestic discretionary spending. The problem is that people like Fred Hiatt want to rule out any other options in order to try to force cuts to Social Security and Medicare.

One final point, there is no guarantee that even if liberals agreed to cut the benefits received by people on Social Security and Medicare that the money would go to domestic discretionary spending. In the past surplus funds have been used for tax cuts targeted to the rich. In the current political environment in Washington it would be absurd to assume that this could not happen again.

Comments (13)Add Comment
written by Richard, June 17, 2013 7:54
It's not for nothing he is known as "Fact Free Fred Hiatt"
Hiatt is on a sinking ship and may be lining up future employment opportunities
written by John Wright, June 17, 2013 9:00
Here's some information about the Washington Post Co financial performance.


"The company’s total revenue for the quarter rose slightly to $959 million. But over all, newspaper division revenue declined by 4 percent to $127.3 million. Print advertising at The Washington Post dropped by 8 percent, to $48.6 million, primarily because of decreases in retail and general advertising."

"The Washington Post newspaper also suffered from a decline in circulation as the company introduced price increases for its daily home delivery and its newsstand sales. Average daily print circulation declined by 7.2 percent to 457,100 and average Sunday circulation declined 7.7 percent to 659,500."

They even announced plans to move out of the downtown headquarters to save money.

So maybe we should cut Hiatt some slack as he tries to line up new employment opportunities (at Fox or the Petersen Institute) while he has a forum at the Washington Post.

Fred Hiatt on How to Take an Economic Victim Hostage: Bart in Blazing Saddles
written by Last Mover, June 17, 2013 10:12

Director: Ready to shoot, Take #1 (as modified)

Townspeople load their guns and point them at Bart. Bart then points his own pistol at his head

Bart: [low voice] Hold it! Next man makes a move, the entitlement freeloader gets it!

Townsperson#1: Hold it, men. He's not bluffing.

Townsperson#2: Listen to him, men. He's just crazy enough to do it!

Bart: [low voice] Drop it! Or I swear I'll blow this freeloaders's head all over this town!

Bart: [high-pitched voice] Oh, lo'dy, lo'd, he's desp'it! Do what he sayyyy, do what he sayyyy!

[Townspeople drop their guns. Bart jams the gun into his neck and drags himself through the crowd towards the station]

Townsperson#3: Isn't anybody going to help that poor man?

Townsperson#1: Hush! That's a sure way to get him killed!

Bart: [high-pitched voice] Oooh! He'p me, he'p me! Somebody he'p me! He'p me! He'p me! He'p me!

Bart: [low voice] Shut up!

[Bart places his hand over his own mouth, then drags himself through the door into his office]

Bart: Ooh, baby, you are so talented!

[looks into the camera]

Bart: And they are so *dumb*!
You say 'entitlements'. I say 'social programs'.
written by leo from chicago, June 17, 2013 10:19
Hiatt uses the term "entitlements" since it is less popular than the programs to which it refers.

Back in the day, I believe we called them 'social programs'.
written by Eric377, June 17, 2013 10:49
The conceptual framework that Hiatt envisions strikes me as plausible. That is, conservatives might not actually care a whit about getting Social Security (particularly) or Medicare cuts. With Social Security, the transfer of funds is pretty much value free...here's some money and if you make it to next month we'll send you some more. If the receipients want to buy food or go to the casino, that's their business. To the extent that needy seniors can meet their needs with SS, cutting it back to expand Meals on Wheels or what-have-you is fairly pointless. Besides, the party of most conservatives happens to be composed of people a little older than the other big party. No, it might be just fine with conservatives to let the big programs be lumped under general non-defense spending and not cut them one dollar and watch the programs that they hate on more make the adjustments. That Hiatt can't prove it will play out this way doesn't mean that it can't. I mean, the sequester for FAA got turned around while nothing else did.
written by Barkley Rosser, June 17, 2013 12:26
Completely agree, Dean, and will probably post on this and link to to you on this on Econospeak. Two points here are that Fred H. is one of the least well known but most important and influential of the liberat social security hysterians, given his position as WaPo editorial page editor. And he really is far gone into it, probably hopelessly so, even worse than RJSamuelson.

And, of course, the bottom line is "accept cuts in future benefits now, because otherwise you might have to accept cuts in future benefits in the future!" although for him it is definite, "take them now because they are inevitable" and boy is he pissed over the unwillingness to go along with the chained CPI (not noticing the elderly price index, but that does not matter as all that matters is cutting those benefits somehow someway anyway.
written by berick, June 17, 2013 12:41
Hiatt is a fool. Cut "entitlements" to cut deficits, and the sure result will be a Republican administration that claims "we can and should cut taxes more", leading to renewed deficits and the "need" to cut entitlements yet more. Until they are gone.
written by MilesSWO, June 17, 2013 12:53
The GOP base sees "entitlements" and thinks "programs the coloreds use. Man, they act so entitled".

To tell them "if we don't cut entitlements, we'll have to cut Head Start and food stamps and Pell Grants" will probably confuse them pretty awesomely.
military spending should decline as a percent of GNP, Low-rated comment [Show]
written by jawbone, June 17, 2013 4:30
I like "earned benefits" as an occasional way to refer to SocSec and Medicare. We pay in, we get benefits. Easypeasy.
Of course deficit reduction isn't really the point ...
written by Patrick Lester, June 17, 2013 5:48
The very weakness of these arguments shows how little the ongoing crusade to cut bedrock safety net programs like Social Security and Medicare has to do with deficit reduction.

GOP 30-year Budget Projections Target Social Security and Medicare
Still Waiting After 20 Years
written by cas, June 18, 2013 2:12
"and in the near term larger deficits will foster growth and create jobs"

Tell it to Japan.
WaPo is Unreadable
written by Greenjeans, June 18, 2013 3:00
Hiatt and his indefensible opinion page hires (and his firing of Dan Froomkin) have caused me to implement my own boycot. I go to Sargent and Robinson online - and that's it.

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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.