Situation Room Still Scaring on Social Security

As FAIR documented in an August 11 action alert, CNN‘s The Situation Room was featuring alarmist views on Social Security, particularly from the network’s political analyst David Gergen.

We know CNN has heard from activists;Wolf Blitzer’s email response was, “I am certain this subject isn’t going away.” Sure enough, the show was back at it on Friday (8/13/10)–though little had changed.

This time around, the guests were familiar CNN pundits Gergen and Gloria Borger. The problems began with Blitzer’s teaser for the segment: “Are politicians too scared though to try to save the program?”

The issue isn’t at all whether politicians are “scared”–the question should be whether they need to do anything at all right now.

Borger’s take was this:

People right now are really concerned about spending in this country. And everybody understands that in order to control the deficit you have to get these entitlement programs under control.

As has been noted repeatedly, Social Security has amassed a $2.5 trillion surplus over the past two decades. If there are serious concerns about the federal budget deficit, it is unclear how Social Security would be a major factor. As the Economic Policy Institute put it recently (8/13/10), Social Security is “emphatically not the cause of the federal governmentâ┚¬Ã¢”ž¢s long-term deficits, since it is prohibited from borrowing and must pay all benefits out of dedicated tax revenues and savings in its trust funds.”

Borger went on: “So the question is, what can you do to get spending on Social Security under control?” Thatwould seem to suggest that Borger thinks benefits that have been promised to workersâ┚¬”that those workers have paid forâ┚¬”should be cut.

Gergen echoed Borger’s points, lamenting the idea that politicians (particularly Democrats) will “promise not to touch Social Security, to defend Social Security as it is. If you do that, you can’t get the deficits under control.”

Gergen added that “there is a real unwillingness to come to grips with what the underlying issues are, how high the benefits are and how little taxes we’re paying in.” That is a strange way to describe a program with a massive surplus. Perhaps Gergen’s “we” is a reference to the wealthy; if the cap on earnings subject to the Social Security (FICA) tax were lifted, the additional revenues could go a long way toward shoring up Social Security’s long-term finances.

It’s doubtful that’s actually what he meant, but if CNN is going to keep covering Social Security, perhaps they should invite some experts on who could explain these issues to viewers?

About Peter Hart

Activism Director and and Co-producer of CounterSpinPeter Hart is the activism director at FAIR. He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra! and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003). Hart has been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Associated Press. He has also appeared on Showtime and in the movie Outfoxed. Follow Peter on Twitter at @peterfhart.