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“...the new budget ​drastically cuts Social Security benefits for many of those now collecting, drastically cuts benefits for many of those who were about to collect, exacerbates Social Security work disincentive and induces households to do exactly the wrong thing, namely take their benefits too early at the cost of permanently lower benefits.”

Source: Proposed Budget Bill Would Have Devastating Effects on Millions' Social Security Benefits

Columnist: Laurence Kotlikoff

 

Correction:

In a column loaded with scary and inflammatory rhetoric describing Congress’ budget deal as  “devastating,” “radical,” and “truly draconian,” Laurence Kotlikoff does his readers and especially Social Security beneficiaries a huge disservice by presenting changes that impact a tiny percentage of Americans as something much larger.  At issue is a little-used benefit strategy called File and Suspend.  The Budget deal modifies this practice and fixes the unintended consequences (the Social Security Actuary calls it a loophole) in a 2000 Social Security law that allows retirees to file for Social Security and then suspend receipt of their benefits to maximize their Social Security payout. Under the Budget deal, the tiny percentage of beneficiaries (estimated to be about 100,000 people) who’ve used this strategy will be allowed to continue to do so.  Their benefits will not be cut.  However, Congress is changing this claiming practice for the future.  Spouses, divorced spouses, the disabled and children will still quality for their regular earned Social Security benefits much as they have in the past. As the co-author of a how-to book advising people on ways to use “aggressive claiming strategies,” there’s no surprise Kotlikoff finds this provision frustrating; however, these changes are far from “reneging” on Social Security’s promise as claimed in his piece. 

The National Committee does not support the Congressional majority’s continuing use of Social Security as a bargaining chip in budget negotiations.  However, it’s vital that Americans receive the full story about Congressional action on Social Security, including who is truly affected and in what ways.  The Congressional budget deal does not cut benefits and will not impact millions of people, contrary to what was reported by PBS.  

 

 

 

McArdle’s disdain for Social Security is sprinkled throughout her error-laden story.  Here are just a few samples (emphasis is ours):

“no one, left or right, really wants to take on our vast army of retirees...”

“progressives who are ideologically opposed to shrinking the welfare state...”

“It is supremely irrelevant whether that money flows through the "trust fund" or Uncle Sam holds an annual ceremony in which the trustees are handed one of those giant checks they present to lottery winners...”

“Social Security's great political strength is the perception that beneficiaries have earned their benefits...”

“The only reason that the system isn't in the red already is the net interest the government is paying itself on the bonds in the trust fund.” 

Source: The Left Gets It Wrong About Social Security

Columnist: Megan McArdle

 

Correction:

As a columnist, McArdle is paid to express her opinions.  However, as an employee of a “news organization” she should be expected to at least build her case based on facts.  As the Los Angeles Times correctly assessed, “It's rare to find so much sophistry, misunderstanding and misinformation about Social Security in one place.”  So much so, we can’t even begin to fact-check all of it; however, we’ll address the first four quotes listed above as classic examples of how conservatives consistently choose language describing Social Security as if it’s a “welfare state” where “vast army of retirees” are lucky enough to be “handed...giant checks” like lottery winners.  After all, it’s only a “perception that beneficiaries have earned their benefits.” Of course, the truth for millions of Americans who have actually worked and paid into Social Security for a lifetime (not just “perceived” that they did) does not resemble the political and verbal mythology created by conservatives like McArdle in any way. 

The claim that Social Security’s financing is actually worse than it appears because of some sort of accounting gimmick by which “the government is paying itself” shows either complete  ignorance of how the Trust Fund works or willful misrepresentation of the facts.  Simply put, the federal government pays interest on the money it borrows from American workers’ payroll tax contributions to Social Security.  That’s not the same as “paying itself.”  It’s a legal obligation we owe to all bond holders.  We also do this for the bonds in Warren Buffett and Pete Peterson’s portfolios, so why do conservatives never treat that as somehow suspect?  While defaulting on our debt to Pete Peterson or China would never be allowed (nor should it)...refusing to pay back America’s retirees is not only acceptable to conservatives but exactly the solution alleged “fiscal hawks” want Congress to adopt.  

 

 

 

Quote:

“ ‘President Obama’s plan provides no hope of balancing the budget, no plan to save Social Security or Medicare, and no realistic ideas to grow the private economy or create jobs,’ U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio” 

 “’He ignores Social Security and Medicare, but we need real reform or these programs won’t exist for future generations of Americans,” (Rep. Tom) Rooney said’.”


Source: On Obama budget, Florida Republicans critical of lack of reforms to Social Security


Reporter: Jeremy Wallace



 

Correction:

Reporters have a responsibility to hold their sources, even Members of Congress, accountable to the truth.  Unfortunately, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune did none of that in its coverage of the President’s budget. 

It’s certainly no surprise that Congressional Republicans hope to use their new majority to cut benefits to millions of middle-class seniors who depend on Social Security and Medicare.  The Sarasota Herald-Tribune, unfortunately, gave its local lawmakers free reign to make up their own facts in support of that agenda.

Rep. Tom Rooney is flat-out wrong when he claimed “these programs won’t exist for future generations” without reform.  There isn’t a single actuarial projection that Social Security and Medicare won’t exist for future generations.  In fact, the Social Security Trustees report that with $2.76 trillion in the Social Security Trust Fund the program will be able to pay full benefits for decades to come - until 2033.  At that point, there will still be enough revenue coming into the program to pay 77 percent of all benefits owed.  Won’t exist?  Hardly. 

In the Herald-Tribune story, Senator Mark Rubio claimed the President’s budget offers “no plan” for Social Security or Medicare.  Truth is this budget includes $400 billion in Medicare savings including, unfortunately, increased means-testing, premium hikes and co-pays for seniors.  While these cuts apparently aren’t enough for Senator Rubio that doesn’t make them non-existent. This budget also addresses the more immediate Social Security disability shortfall with a simple administrative move, done 11 times before, that the House GOP refuses to consider.

As the old adage goes, “we’re entitled to our opinions but not our own facts.”  Journalists owe it to their readers to report those facts not merely parrot one party’s political spin.

 

 

 

 

Quote:“…economists say you really have to do things like reform Social Security and Medicare and the President’s budget doesn’t do that.”

“Switching to this other way of calculating inflation, it’s called chained CPI, blah, blah, blah...whatever that means.  But...it’s basically a way of calculating the cost of living increases for Social Security.”

Source: NPR’s “Here & Now”

Senior Business Editor: Marilyn Geewax



 

Correction:

ally, all economists don’t suggest cutting Social Security and Medicare to pay down the deficit.  Far from it.  Clearly NPR needs to work on expanding its sources beyond Washington’s billion dollar anti-Social Security, fiscal hawk lobby.  Here are just a few respected economists and their writings to help get NPR started:  Nobel Prize Economist, Paul Krugman, Center for Economic and Policy Research Economist, Dean Baker, and Economic Policy Institute Economist, Monique Morrisey, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities Economist, Paul Van De Water,  and Henry Aaron, Social Security Advisory Board and the Brookings Institute

It’s also very discouraging when a major media outlet’s Senior Business Editor doesn’t understand even the basics of a proposal which would cut billions of dollars in benefits to both current and future retirees, veterans, people with disabilities and their families.  In the same time it took to tell its listeners “blah, blah, blah...whatever that means” NPR could have given them the truth about what the Chained CPI does mean --  benefit cuts starting immediately for millions of Americans still struggling in this economic recovery.  

 

 

 

Quote: “Here’s the reality, at the rate we’re spending, the system (Social Security) will be bankrupt by the time you and I are actually eligible to get these benefits. “We can’t afford it.” “While we’re living two decades longer we haven’t made any changes.” ”

Source: Millennials Face Big Problems

Reporter: Abby Hunstman


 

Correction:

MSNBC anchor Abby Huntsman (daughter of GOP Presidential Candidate Jon Huntsman) clearly misunderstands Social Security’s funding  and twists both life expectancy data and worker ratios to the breaking point to build a false case for cutting Social Security benefits for millennials.   Contrary to Huntsman’s claims, there is not a single scenario or economic projection in which Social Security goes bankrupt, most  Americans aren’t living 20 years longer and there have been numerous reforms to Social Security in the past,  including raising the retirement age.

If Washington does nothing at all by the time the Trust Fund is depleted in 2033, millennials and generations after them will receive a 25% benefit cut.  Huntsman urges raising the retirement age to 70-75 on top of that which means an even larger benefit cut for our children and grandchildren.  Unfortunately, rather than educating her fellow millennials with the facts,  her “fix” for Social Security comes straight from the multi-billion dollar anti-entitlement lobby’s talking points.   There are ways to fill the funding gap without hitting future generations with huge benefit cuts. Rather than gutting Social Security under the guise of “fixing it”, Congress should lift the payroll tax cap and enact other meaningful reforms to strengthen the program for future generations.  


 

 

 

Quote: “And there's broad agreement Social Security could be made solvent with a mix of relatively small tax increases and benefit cuts.”

Source: Reining In Health Care Costs Key To Trimming Deficit

Reporter: John Ydstie


 

Correction:

While reporter John Ydstie’s coverage of the deficit basically got it right – controlling the nation’s health care costs system-wide is key to cutting the deficit -- he took an inexplicable leap to questionable conclusions near the end of his story. Where is this “broad agreement” to cut benefits to middle-class seniors and their families that Ydstie references? It’s certainly not among the vast majority of Americans, who across all ages and party lines, do not support cutting benefits to balance the budget. It’s not among Americans who’ve consistently said they’re willing to pay more to maintain already modest benefit levels. It’s definitely not among a growing movement which supports boosting benefits not cutting them.

 

 

 

Quote: “[I]f current taxes and entitlement promises are not reformed, the cupboard will be largely bare for today’s Facebook generation”

Source: Sorry Kids, We Ate it All

Reporter: Thomas Friedman


 

Correction:

In an editorial that reads like a news release from Washington’s billion dollar Wall Street lobby, columnist Thomas Friedman promotes the generational warfare argument made by those who want middle-class benefit cuts to pay down the deficit rather than address the growing income inequality that truly threatens our younger generations.

Using language directly from the massive Wall Street lobby while also promoting a personal friend (who’s a wealthy hedgefunder), Friedman ignores the economic realities which threaten our young people.  Rather than cutting corporate taxes to zero, how about making college affordable?  Rather than means-testing Medicare and Social Security which hits middle-class seniors, how about addressing the lack of jobs and income inequality which truly threaten the American dream for future generations?  Solutions which address these real threats shouldn’t target middle-class seniors and their families, and it’s time to expose the true goal of this generational warfare campaign, led by Wall Street lobbyists and echoed by their friends (literally) in the press.

 

 

 

Quote: “...a 16.5% across-the-board cut in benefits or a 20% cut for new beneficiaries, according to the report from the bipartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. That’s not painless. But it beats the alternative.”  

Source: Report: Fix Social Security Now – or Pay a Stiff Price

Reporter: Jonathan Weisman


 

Correction:

Time Business Reporter Dan Kadlec took the concept of fair and balanced and threw it out the window while dutifully reporting the myopic results from one of Washington’s well-financed austerity lobby group’s “report” urging cuts to Social Security benefits.  Incredibly, in his 447 words of coverage, not one was offered with alternate solutions offered by countless organizations proving you don’t have to slash benefits to keep Social Security strong for generations. In NCPSSM’s report, “Breaking the Glass Ceiling” we detail many other options which would not only close the 23% funding gap in 2033 as predicted by the Social Security Trustees, but would also not require harmful cuts for millions of working Americans who will rely upon their Social Security benefits for the majority of their income during retirement or disability.

 

 

 

Quote: The federal budget deficit will fall to $759 billion for the fiscal year that ends this September, a $214 billion improvement from the projection made in March... But absent structural changes to Medicare and Social Security, the forecast makes clear that such short-run improvements may not last.  

Source: Projections Show U.S. Budget Deficit Will Shrink

Reporter: Jonathan Weisman


 

Correction:

This unfortunate example of editorializing in a news article has become all too common when it comes to coverage of Social Security and Medicare.  In truth, there are many options for reducing deficits in the long term beyond cutting benefits to millions of middle-class and poor Americans served by Social Security and Medicare.  For example, eliminate $1 trillion dollars in wasteful tax breaks and loopholes for large corporations and the richest Americans, reverse decades of income inequality which continues to drag down our economy, and build on the healthcare reform begun with the Affordable Care Act.  America’s for-profit health care system needs reformed and we must continue to reduce our health care costs system-wide to reduce projected long-term deficits.   To suggest cutting Social Security and Medicare are the only ways to cut deficits may be this reporter’s opinion but it’s certainly not the facts.


 

 

 

Quote: “That (DOMA) would be an unfunded liability that adds to the liability of Social Security tens of billions of dollars.” 

Source: DOMA and Social Security

Anchor: Stuart Varney


 

Correction:

Fox Business Anchor, Stuart Varney, was among the first conservative commentators to claim the Supreme Court’s repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) would bankrupt Social Security.  That claim completely ignores the fact that research by both the Congressional Budget Office and the Social Security Administration show otherwise.  The cost to Social Security is, in fact, negligible.

Also, in order to receive benefits, same sex couples must qualify as other married couples do.  They must pay into the system to qualify for benefits.  That is not an unfunded liability it is a qualified benefit paid for by payroll tax contributions made throughout their working lives.


 

 

 

Quote: America has a problem — increasingly expensive entitlement programs.” 

Source: US Chamber of Commerce Wants to Fix Entitlement Programs

Reporter: Michelle Smith


 

Correction:

The truth is neither Social Security nor Medicare costs are “increasingly expensive.”   The 2013 Social Security and Medicare Trustees’ reports were little changed from 2012.   The Trustees report there is now nearly $2.73 trillion in the Social Security Trust Fund, which is $54 billion more than last year.   With the economy showing signs of recovery, the Trustees also estimate that, in 2013, Social Security's total income will exceed its expenses by over $28 billion. In fact, total annual income is expected to exceed program obligations through 2020.  In Medicare, cost control measures in the ACA have reduced costs and the projected shortfall in the program has been reduced by almost 70 percent since 2008.  America’s fiscal problems have not been caused by Social Security and Medicare regardless of what the Chamber’s news releases and this reporter claim.

Host Melissa Harris-Perry only confused the discussion more by telling viewers that Medicare and Medicaid won’t exist at all by 2030 or 2033.  Absolutely, no one projects that Medicare and Medicaid “may not be available” to the millennial generation.  The Medicare Trustees project the Trust Fund will be solvent until 2024. After that, payroll taxes will still cover 87 percent of costs.  Benefit cuts are not the same as bankruptcy and the media must understand the difference when discussing options to strengthen these vital programs.

A segment including millennials and Social Security and Medicare experts talking about the future of these programs and their role for younger generations would be a worthy topic for MSNBC viewers.  However, it’s critical that producers and hosts understand the basics of how these programs are funded and get beyond the crisis headlines that claim the programs will be bankrupt when that’s simply not the truth.

 

 

 

Quote: CBO projects Social Security Trust Fund ratio will reach zero in 2034.” MSNBC Graphic

“Do you all ever think about Medicare and Medicaid? I’m wondering as you make voting decisions or thinking about your own life planning, I know it feels really far off, they're talking about 2030, 2033 when this may not be available to you.” MSNBC host Melissa Harris-Perry

Source: The Associated Press, Is the Class of 2013 Really Ready for What's Next?

Host: Melissa Harris-Perry


 

Correction:

MSNBC totally missed the mark in a panel discussion about college debt that randomly and repeatedly misinformed its viewers about Social Security and Medicare. Throughout the show, while two very articulate recent college grads discussed the growing student debt crisis, lower third graphics inexplicably presented Social Security stats that ranged from incorrect to indecipherable. 

First off, there’s no such thing as a Trust Fund “ratio.” If the show’s producer doesn’t understand what the CBO has reported on Social Security, how can the audience?  According to the CBO, the Trust Fund will be exhausted in 2034 meaning, without any changes, benefits will be cut to 80% of current levels after 2034.  Social Security won’t be bankrupt, contrary to the suggestion of this zero context, zero explanation graphic; which also has absolutely nothing to do with college debt.

Host Melissa Harris-Perry only confused the discussion more by telling viewers that Medicare and Medicaid won’t exist at all by 2030 or 2033.  Absolutely, no one projects that Medicare and Medicaid “may not be available” to the millennial generation.  The Medicare Trustees project the Trust Fund will be solvent until 2024. After that, payroll taxes will still cover 87 percent of costs.  Benefit cuts are not the same as bankruptcy and the media must understand the difference when discussing options to strengthen these vital programs.

A segment including millennials and Social Security and Medicare experts talking about the future of these programs and their role for younger generations would be a worthy topic for MSNBC viewers.  However, it’s critical that producers and hosts understand the basics of how these programs are funded and get beyond the crisis headlines that claim the programs will be bankrupt when that’s simply not the truth.

 

 

 

Quote: “Entitlements are squeezing out public investments.”

Source: The Associated Press, Entitlement Programs Thrive Amid Gridlock, Shifting Money from Younger Generations to Older

Reporter: Charles Babington


 

Correction:

This Associated Press story reads like a news release written by the multi-million dollar austerity lobby offering readers zero balance, zero analysis, zero context and plenty of factual errors.

Social Security is an earned benefit paid for with the FICA contributions of generations of American workers.  Suggesting that repaying the Social Security Trust Fund for the trillions of dollars in contributions already made by those workers is a “shift in public resources” or that it squeezes “out public investments” shows a complete lack of understanding of how the Trust Fund works.   It’s also the core message in a Wall-street funded intergenerational warfare propaganda campaign which attempts to pit young versus old while ignoring the real challenges facing young people – income inequity, joblessness and a stagnant economy. The fact that more benefits will be paid to the large baby boom generation (who also built up the $2.7 trillion—and growing -- trust fund to pay for it) than to a smaller retiree cohort in 1962 is the classic case of how to manipulate the truth with statistics. 

Had this reporter talked to just one Social Security or Medicare expert, he would have seen the fallacy of the propaganda offered by Wall Street backed groups, like the Third Way, which advocate for cuts to Social Security and Medicare to pay down the deficit.

 

 

 

Quote: “...those who refuse to address the entitlement challenge are statistics-deniers.”

Source: National Journal, Democrats Risk Alientating Young Voters by Opposing Cuts in Entitlement Spending

Writer: Charlie Cook


 

Correction: Here are some statistics this writer conveniently failed to mention in his zealous defense of cutting Social Security benefits to reduce the deficit.   There is currently $2.7 trillion in the Social Security Trust Fund, which is $69 billion more than last year, and it continues to grow. Payroll contributions and interest on the Trust Fund's assets will fully cover benefits for 20 more years, and can cover 75% after that.  Social Security, by law, is prohibited from contributing to the debt and thus has added zero to the federal deficit.  The real challenges to our economy include: 11.7 million unemployed, a slow 2.5% economic growth rate and growing income inequality in which the top 1% of Americans own 40% of the entire country's wealth.  Social Security isn’t the problem, no matter which statistics the media choose to ignore or address.

 

 

 

Quote: “Republican leaders have made reducing the cost of entitlements their top priority, and for good reason, budget analysts say. Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security account for nearly 40 percent of federal spending and are growing rapidly, as they must provide benefits to all who qualify, regardless of cost.”

Source: The Washington Post, Republicans embrace Obama’s offer to trim Social Security benefits            

Reporter: Lori Montgomery


 

Correction: Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are three very distinct programs with unique funding, missions and long-term projections.  Lumping them together is a political strategy used by lobbyists and their supporters in Congress who want to make fiscal challenges look like financial disasters in order to round up support for cutting benefits to middle-class and poor Americans in order to pay down the deficit.  In addition, Social Security is growing slowly, with trustees predicting growth of 1% of GDP over the next two decades and then stays constant for the rest of the century.  Meanwhile, skyrocketing healthcare costs system wide continue to impact Medicare as well; however, Medicare’s costs have risen more slowly over recent years and at a rate below private health insurance. Neither fits the description “growing rapidly.”

 

 

 

Quote: “...the so-called chained-CPI - which tracks more accurately, apparently, actual buying habits - you end up with lower Social Security payments”

Source: National Public Radio, Obama to Send Detailed Budget Report to Capitol Hill

Reporter: Cokie Roberts


 

Correction: The chained CPI is not a more accurate measure of seniors’ buying habits. The theory underlying the chained CPI is that buyers will make purchasing substitutions when inflation is high.  For example, if the cost of steak rises, you’ll buy hamburger instead.  However, seniors devote a higher percentage of their monthly spending to health care costs, and rarely have the flexibility to substitute one medication or particular medical procedure for a less costly alternative. The chained CPI is not only less accurate but it will also lead to benefit cuts for millions of seniors, retired veterans and people with disabilities. 

 

 

 

Quote: “Maybe there are better ideas for reforming social insurance. The point is, we better start talking about them. Otherwise, grandpa and grandma and their fellow Grateful Dead fans are going to eat all the food on the table.

Source: Bloomberg News, Why Democrats Must Get Smart on Entitlements            

Columnist: Jonathan Alter


 

Correction: Blaming older Americans for fiscal policies that have worsened economic prospects for our children ignores economic reality. Social Security didn’t crash our economy. It hasn’t added a penny to the deficit.  This “greedy geezer” meme was created by Wall Street backed austerity lobbyists to divert attention from the real threat: growing income inequality, skyrocketing college debt, unemployment, and economic malaise. Social Security and Medicare aren’t the problems. However, rising income inequality and Washington’s economic policies which have shifted income away from middle-class families (including the young and old alike) to America’s millionaires and corporations certainly are. Without programs like Social Security (which serves 4 million children and young people) even more middle-class families would be threatened in this economy. That’s exactly why the vast majority of Americans, of all ages, do not support cutting Social Security benefits they know their children and grandchildren will need, possibly even more than they do.


Have you seen a story in which media got it wrong?  If so, let us know and we’ll track it down and provide the truth about Social Security and Medicare.

 

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The Balanced Budget Amendment introduced by House Republicans went down to defeat Thursday night by a vote of 233-184, falling fall short of the 2/3 majority required to advance the measure to the Senate. The amendment’s demise was a relief for our nation’s seniors, because it threatened the earned benefits they have contributed to during their entire working lives.

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