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January 02, 2005

Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps? (Josh Micah Marshall Is Shrill Department)

Joshua Micah Marshall takes strong exception to the lead in Jonathan Weisman's Social Security article. Josh has the odd belief that a story's lead paragraph should be something other than regurgitated White House talking points. But look at it from Weisman's perspective, Josh: his White House sources will be very happy with the lead, and be more enthusiastic about talking to him in the future:

Talking Points Memo: by Joshua Micah Marshall: January 02, 2005 - January 08, 2005 Archives: In Sunday's Post Jonathan Weisman has a piece on whether or not there's a Social Security 'crisis'. And look at the lead graf ...

In just 14 years,  the nation's Social Security system is projected to reach a day of reckoning: Retiree benefits will exceed payroll tax receipts, and to pay its bills the system will have to begin redeeming billions of dollars in special Treasury bonds that have piled up in its trust fund. To redeem those bonds, which represent money taken in years when Social Security ran a surplus and used for other government operations, the federal government would likely have to cut other programs, raise taxes or borrow more money.

It's not like he's prejudging the question or anything, right? A 'day of reckoning'? Where to start? In addition to adopting rather dramatic language that reads like it comes right out of the privatization playbook, just what does 2018 represent?... [I]t is part of the plan under which Social Security's financing was restructured.... [B]abyboomers were asked to overpay into the system to create a reserve to cushion the stresses that would be created when their oversized generation retired. Coming to that date isn't any more of a 'day of reckoning' than it is when you get out of college and have to start paying your loans back....

Weisman's article covers many of the issues I've discussed further down into the piece. But in writing an article that poses the question of whether or not there's a 'crisis' it probably makes sense not to start with loaded terms and phrases that prejudge the question in the affirmative.

What actually made me wince was the last sentence of the first paragraph, the one in which Weisman says that to "redeem these [Social Security] bonds," the General Fund will "likely have to cut other programs, raise taxes, or borrow more money." What's the "likely" doing there? It's impossible for the General Fund to do anything else: if it doesn't cut other programs, doesn't raise taxes, and doesn't borrow, then it doesn't repay the bonds--it defaults on them.

It's a yardstick of Weisman's poor grasp of arithmetic and of the federal budget that he thinks he needs to put a "likely" in there.

Posted by DeLong at January 2, 2005 08:10 AM

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Over the past year or so I've heard Bagdikian, Moyers and just lately Dana Milbank speak to the dynamics of current journalism. Milbank spoke to his own ostracization after speaking to the malleability of truth in the Bush whitehouse. Seems that in the white house corps sycophants succeed and all other may as well stand aside. I like what Knight Ridders accomplishes by working the perimeters for stories thus avoiding information ministry schtick. The real news stories are held in the hands of the help. The head cheese is only going to tell you what he wants you to print.

Posted by: Ken Melvin at January 2, 2005 09:54 AM

"What's the "likely" doing there? It's impossible for the General Fund to do anything else: if it doesn't cut other programs, doesn't raise taxes, and doesn't borrow, then it doesn't repay the bonds--it defaults on them."

Brad--you forget the awesome economic power of pixie dust.

Posted by: AB at January 2, 2005 10:59 AM

Given the "crisis" that we face in 2018 - we'll have to start paying interest on bonds that the government has been issuing for the past 20 years, rather than just rolling the interest over into more bonds - there's really only one logical conclusion to make.

The government shouldn't be spending $1 for every sixty-eight cents it brings in right now.

The GOP has been scrambling mightily to cut current tax revenue to the bone, while allowing
current spending to soar for the past four years.

The income tax code has been goosed so the tax base looks more and more like the FICA tax base. We're heading more and more to a system in which only working people pay income taxes - the same working people that pay FICA taxes.

Much of this has been possible only because we've been bringing in a Social Security surplus.

The only crisis that we need to solve in the next 15 years is the general revenue crisis, in which the GOP seeks to steal the Social Security trust from working people TWICE. First, while the trust was building up, by exempting the rich from taxation. Then, with structural deficits to assure that general obligations force a day of reconing 30 years before the Social Security trust bonds are redeemed.

We need to make SS administration truly independent, and give the trustees the ability to move the funds where they can be safeguarded from ideologues in congress.

Posted by: Charlie at January 2, 2005 11:01 AM

We also could cut SS. Not likely, but possible. So the other options are just likely, not the only possibilities. Perhaps he should have highly likely, but whatever. Care to retract that obnoxious comment at the end of your post?

Posted by: Maestro at January 2, 2005 11:03 AM

"It's a yardstick of Weisman's poor grasp of arithmetic and of the federal budget that he thinks he needs to put a "likely" in there."

No. No. No. No. No.

You're forgetting the faith-based alternative. Jesus, in his infinite wisdom, will declare supply-side economics rational; the economy will boom; millions will move up the economic ladder (thereby contributing the max to SS) and the problem will be solved.

Hope IS a plan.

Posted by: flory at January 2, 2005 11:50 AM

Weisman says we'll 'likely' have to raise taxes, cut spending or borrow in 2018 because there is the possibility (albeit slim) of running a budget surplus at that time. If so, you'd run down the surplus.

Maybe it's not TOO likely, but it's not a hanging offense for Weisman either.

Posted by: AGBDC at January 3, 2005 08:06 PM

Perhaps we need a supplementary tax on all income *above* the social security threshold (of about $85000 at the moment). This seems fair, since the money was borrowed from income below the threshold and used to justify (subsidize, pick your verb) tax cuts (or used to disguise the need for tax increases) for higher-income people.

Posted by: Bill Arnold at January 4, 2005 01:52 PM

[another comment spam makes it through]

Posted by: at January 6, 2005 07:26 AM

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