NYT Back on the Deficit Train

On today’s front page, under the headline “Deficit Divisions Likely to Grow After Election,” New York Times reporter Jackie Calmes writes this lead:

WASHINGTON — A midterm campaign that has turned heavily on the issue of the mounting federal debt is likely to yield a government even more split over what to do about it, people in both parties say, with diminished Democrats and reinforced Republicans confronting internal divisions even as they dig in against the other side.

It is difficult to know what to make of this; the Times recently noted that the public doesn’t spend much time thinking about the deficit. (“The deficit barely registers as a topic of concern when survey respondents were asked to volunteer their worries,” was how the paper put it.) It’shard to figurehowa non-issue could be so important to the campaigns–other than as a useful talking point for some Republican politicians.

Calmes goes on to talk about possible spending cuts post-election, referencingthe “unsustainable combination of fast-growing entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare and inadequate tax revenues.”

Reporters often lump Social Security and Medicare together asunaffordable entitlements. But the programs face very different budgetary pressures.Graphs that plot the estimated costs of both show that Social Security’s expansion over the next several decades (measured asa share of the total economy) is modest compared toMedicare, which is poised to grow substantially (and thus is the far more important story by any standard). But many in the corporate media dwell on Social Security instead, often presenting it as a test of Democrats’ political courage:

Democrats are also split on fixing Social Security’s long-term solvency. Mr. Obama had wanted to tackle the issue early, and he created the debt commission by executive order–after Senate Republicans blocked legislation–partly in the hope that it would propose future benefit and payroll tax changes he could embrace. Some Democrats say he will have all the more reason to lead that charge after the elections, to signal a more centrist, fiscally conservative course. Yet liberal groups have already formed a big coalition to lobby against any such move.

That would have been the right place to quote someone who wouldexplain that “fixing Social Security’s long-term solvency” is at best a minorissue.

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.