In a June 8 piece about a liberal summit in D.C. this week,the New York Times notes thatthe left’s support forprograms like Medicare and Social Security areoutof touch with fiscal reality, and that budget cuts elsewhere aren’t going to matter much:
In truth, none of the cuts in annual appropriations will significantly reduce the long-term deficit projections. Those are driven mostly by escalating costs for the benefit programs that liberals most aggressively protect–Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security–and by insufficient tax revenues to support them.
As has been noted many times, Social Security has amassed a surplus of over $2 trillion; that plus the expected revenue from Social Security taxes will keep the program solid for the next 25 years. Medicare is in much worse shape; why the two should be talked about together as if they are comparable drains on the federal government is unclear, unless one wants to associate Social Security with Medicare’s more severe problems.
For an illustration of the difference, see this graph from the Center on Budget & Policy Priorities:
The Washington Post‘s Lori Montgomery, meanwhile, goes after Social Security’s “defenders” today (6/9/10), who have given a “sinister cast” to the White House’s deficit commission, accusing it of having “a secret plan to gut Social Security.” Social Security advocates are using “heated rhetoric” and are “threatening to rally the public against” benefit cuts, which is seen as an “ominous sign” for the commission.
Of that group, Montgomery writes, “Adjusting Social Security benefits is a likely point of consensus, commission members say.” By “adjusting,” she presumably means “cutting” in some form. So it’s “ominous” thatSocial Security’s “defenders” are pointing out this reality about thedeficit commission.
Like the Times piece cited above, the Post portrays the issue as simple mathematics: “Budget experts say it would be difficult to significantly reduce future deficits without addressing the rising cost of Social Security.”
The Post lays outthe argument in favor of Social Security’s viability:
The program’s defenders argue that there is no crisis: If Treasury would repay billions of dollars in surplus Social Security taxes borrowed over the years, the program could pay full benefits through 2037. But many budget experts question whether supporting the existing benefit structure should be a cash-strapped nation’s first priority.
So “experts” are on the side of the Post, while “defenders” are out to protect the status quo. As if to reiterate that point, the next graph quotes an analyst at the Heritage Foundation about the “intellectual consensus” on his side. As Dean Baker notes at Beat the Press, this is in effect saying that the government should default on the portion of its debt held by the Social Security trust fund. That would be a rather radical idea–misappropriating trillions of dollars collected from working people that were to supposed to go to support the retired elderly, and instead using them to keep down tax rates for the wealthy–but one can count on outlets like the Post to portray it as a necessary solution offered up by the “experts.”