‘A Healthcare Problem, Not a Budget Problem’

Continuing to prove himself as tenacious as the Washington Post is doctrinaire, economist Dean Baker provides another example (9/28/08) of how the “Post editorial board occasionally just makes up numbers to advance its arguments”:

Today it told readers that “the [budget] crunch actually begins… in 2011, when Social Security’s cash flow turns negative.”… This not true; the Social Security Trustees report projects that income from designated Social Security taxes (not counting interest on its government bonds) is projected to exceed benefits until 2017. The Post just pulled 2011 out of the air to try to scare readers.

Of course, the year when benefits first exceeds tax revenue makes no difference for either SS or the overall budget anyhow. Under the law, SS is financed by a designated tax. The surplus over the last quarter century has been used to acquire more than $2.4 trillion in government bonds. According to the SS trustees, the bonds held by the trust fund will be sufficient to keep the program fully solvent until 2042. According to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, the program will be fully solvent until 2049. Both dates are far enough out that reasonable people need not panic, we have dealt with far more imminent SS shortfalls.

Proclaiming that “we have a healthcare problem, not a budget problem,” Baker notes again that “if we just had a healthcare system that was as efficient as the healthcare system in Canada, Germany, England, France or any other wealthy country, we would not have to make any other fundamental changes to the ‘tax structure or entitlement programs.'” But then Baker knows all too well that “the Post obviously has an agenda to cut SS and Medicare and they are willing to mislead their readers to advance this agenda.”