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Home Publications Blogs Beat the Press Washington Post Uses Headline to Cover Up Republican Efforts to Cut Social Security and Medicare

Washington Post Uses Headline to Cover Up Republican Efforts to Cut Social Security and Medicare

Friday, 07 December 2012 04:53

The Washington Post used a headline to help conceal the efforts of Republicans to cut Social Security and Medicare, telling readers that:

"some in GOP urge lawmakers to back tax hikes for changes in safety-net programs."

Of course the Republicans actually want cuts to these programs, not random changes. The piece itself also refers to "changes" in these programs. Newspapers are supposed to be trying to inform readers of what politicians are doing, not helping them advance an unpopular agenda (polls consistently show that cuts to these programs are even opposed by the vast majority of Republicans) by concealing its impact from readers.

The piece also failed to point out that several of the statements from Republicans quoted in the article did not make sense. For example, it quotes David Camp, the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee telling readers:

"But House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) said he was reluctant to draft such a plan unless the White House agreed to a tax-revenue target well below the $1.6 trillion Obama has demanded over the next decade.

"'Despite dancing in the end zone, which he’s doing, he keeps moving the goal posts. His revenue number keeps changing,' Camp said. 'There is a point that the economy can only sustain so much revenue being taken out of it.'"

It would have been worth pointing out to readers that President Obama has not moved the goal post one iota. The deficit reduction proposal put forward by Morgan Stanley director Erskine Bowles and former Senator Alan Simpson, the co-chairs of President Obama's deficit commission, called for $1.8 trillion in additional revenue. (It assumes a return to the Clinton era tax rates as part of its baseline and then added on $1 trillion in revenue over a decade.)

This report was widely praised by many Republicans at the time and continues to be praised by many Republicans even now. This means that when Mr. Camp accuses President Obama of moving the goal posts, the chairman of the Ways and Means committee is either completely ignorant of the budget debate that has taken place over the last two years or is not being honest. Since many readers may be less familiar with the history of the budget debate it would have been useful to point out this fact in the article.

The piece also includes a misleading quote from Rep. Thomas J. Rooney (R-Fla.):

“If there are truly real entitlement reforms that are going to preserve Social Security and Medicare for generations to come, it’s going to be very difficult for me to oppose” higher rates for the rich."

Actually, if nothing is done the Congressional Budget Office projects that Social Security can pay full scheduled benefits through the year 2034 and close to 80 percent of scheduled benefits for the rest of the century. Most Republican plans would cut Social Security payments by a comparable or larger amount so it is difficult to know what Mr. Rooney means by "preserve" in this context.

In the case of Medicare, the program is projected to be able to pay full benefits through the year 2024. The cost controls put in place by the Affordable Care Act pushed this date out from 2016 and reduced the long-term projected shortfall by more than two-thirds. This would have been helpful information to provide to readers.


Correction: An earlier version put the date when CBO projects that Social Security will first face a shortfall as 2035. Thanks to Robert Salzberg for calling this to my attention.

Comments (7)Add Comment
written by Ron Alley, December 07, 2012 7:13
What the Republicans need is a Democratic president who will declare that a "compromise" ends Social Security as we know it.
How progressives should frame the entitlement reform effort.
written by John Wright, December 07, 2012 8:36
If the progressives, ( I won't use Democrats because not all Democrats are progressives ) want to frame the "entitlement reform" debate, they should take a page from the Republicans and their use of "death tax" for estate taxes.

In the case of entitlement reform, Democrats should talk about the present value of the Social Security annuity and the present value of the Medicare program for lower and middle class people.

As the net worth of many American households is low, with 110K for White households, 69K for Asian, 7.4K for Hispanic and 5K for black, (see money.cnn.com/2012/06/21/news/economy/wealth-gap-race/index.htm) the net present value of Social Security is significant for most households, and probably for Hispanic/Black households the majority of their wealth. I saw an estimate of the NPV of around 250K for Social Security for a couple that paid the maximum throughout their lives.

If the progressives highlighted the financial hit of "entitlement reform" to the ONLY net worth of many American households, it might be easy for people to see that very wealthy people, and media people in their employ, are the prime advocates of "reform".

Maybe refer to reform as a "elderly life tax".

And as far as reform to avoid the creation of a debt for grandchildren, it is a better plan for the elderly to follow the "bird in hand is worth two in the bush" proverb and receive higher social security payments now and gift the excess to the grandkids.

written by Susan Jeffries, December 07, 2012 9:38
The only "reform" to Medicare the president should put on the negotiating table would be a repeal of the provision in the Medicare Part D bill that prohibits the program from using bulk purchasing power to negotiate drug prices with Big Pharma.

And Social Security should not be on the table at all, certainly not changing the basis used to calculate COLA's. Already Medicare premiums rise each year regardless of whether a COLA for the year was granted, and most COLAs under the present calculation are eaten up by the Medicare premium increase anyway.

This entire "fiscal cliff" fiasco is so stupid. It was just dreamed up as a distraction from the real problem, i.e., congress can't figure out how to create living wage jobs for the unemployed and under employed.
CPI-E Should be the COLA standard for SocSec
written by Brett Greisen, December 07, 2012 10:41
re: Susan Jeffries

I agree that the proposed Chained CPI & the current CPI-W are inadequate to even cover the Medicare premium increases, & the situation was made worse by the recent 3 year COLA freeze because each annual CPI increase was less than 1%.

However, the CPI-E standard fully monitors more of the items that elderly/disabled buy would be a better COLA standard. It would have prevented the recent freeze & would be more accurate, if not perfect for beneficiaries.
written by coberly, December 07, 2012 10:50
well, here's the problem.

the WaPo is a propaganda organ for those trying to kill Social Security.

And as long as "progressives" have only a weak, defensive, impractical counteroffer that would kill SS by changing it's very foundation (worker pays) to turn it into Universal Welfare for All..

they are not even in the argument.

workers are at a point where they can see "20% cut in 20 years" as a big deal that will affect them. they don't understand that the R proposals will be worse. they can't understand that. they don't know enough. and clever little arguments about this or that detail will not persuade them. in fact it will just reinforce the idea that SS is in Big Trouble... and the left has nothing realistic to say about it.

The "left" could say, "Let us, the workers, raise our own tax one tenth of one percent per year for Social Security... thus truly "saving" Social Security as the worker paid insurance and savings program that it is. And then let those who have incomes over the cap, pay a "patriotic deficit emergency surtax" on their income tax sufficient to resolve the "deficit crisis" without destroying the country by not paying what it takes to keep it strong.
written by coberly, December 07, 2012 11:46
what's going on here is that "the right" is desperately afraid that Social Security is going to cost them a huge amount of money in taxes. they have been misled by the Big Liars who simply want to kill SS for their own, mostly psychotic, reasons.

they are opposed by "the left" who desperately want to save "the poor" from a tax increase of eighty cents per week per year. they are being led by those whose deep sense of injustice requires that "the rich pay", and apparently none of them have any sense of just what "eighty cents per week" amounts to. {essentially nothing, even for the poorest.]

meanwhile "the workers" don't understand any of this, but if you ask them, of course they would rather "the rich pay." it would apparently take a leader of the quality and wisdom of Roosevelt to get them to see, or think they see, the importance of keeping SS "worker pays". especially at the trivial cost it would take.

we have no leaders within a thousand years of Roosevelt.

so the left and the right will fight like scorpions in a bottle over "who pays." the rich will win.
Democrats should support a cap on SS benefits
written by Floccina, December 07, 2012 1:44
Democrats should support a cap on SS benefits. The current top monthly benefit is $2,346/month. It should be capped there, CPI increases to the cap. Then as time goes on inflation will push more people to the $2,346/month cap. Also the FICA should be rolled into the income tax, or better yet a very progressive consumption tax.

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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.