A Curious Omission at the Times

Three Social Security proposals, or two?

It was puzzling to see Jackie Calmes’s brief story in The New York Times last week with its provocative headline: “Deficit Panels Go Where Politicians Won’t.” That, of course, conveyed the notion that politicos may be shying away from taking the tough steps necessary to cut the deficit. But there are tough steps a-plenty in a proposal put forth by the president’s fiscal commission co-chairs Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles, and another offered by commission member Alice Rivlin, who was Bill Clinton’s budget director, and former New Mexico Senator Pete Domenici.

A day before the Times story appeared, another commission member, Rep. Jan Schakowsky, a Democrat from Illinois, introduced her own proposal. Calmes, however, didn’t mention that fact—an omission that has had the blogosphere abuzz, with some commenters noting that even the conservative press has mentioned the liberal Schakowsky’s proposal. Why not the Times? Was this a case of selective reporting? Was it a signal that only two proposals had any validity?

“Well, at least someone gave Schakowsky’s plan the time of day,” said one blogger, noting that a National Review blogger had at least made a few comments about it—not particularly favorable ones.
In her piece, Calmes didn’t offer any comparisons or attempt any analysis. It mostly seemed like a reminder to readers that there were two proposals on the table, with each proposing “substantial cuts to spending across the board and an end to popular tax breaks for individuals and corporations after 2012.” Calmes wrote:

The sponsors of the plans say that the scale of the nation’s fiscal problem is too great to resolve without both raising taxes and cutting projected spending on Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, all popular entitlement programs.

Schakowsky aims at the problem differently. She says her proposal will reduce the deficit without harming low-income and middle class families. It doesn’t call for raising the retirement age for full Social Security benefits, as the Simpson/Bowles proposal recommends. It doesn’t suggest privatizing Medicare for people under age fifty-five, or giving states block grants to run their Medicaid programs, as does a separate health care proposal from Rivlin and Wisconsin Republican Paul Ryan. Ryan is also a member of the fiscal commission. Schakowsky calls for defense cuts, and would require Medicare to negotiate prices with drug makers—an idea quickly dropped during the health reform debate.

For readers curious to know how these proposals compare, Washington Post blogger Ezra Klein offers a road map. Klein gives readers a graph created by the Strengthen Social Security Campaign that shows how someone with an income of about $43,000 would fare under six scenarios, including the status quo, the Roadmap for America’s Future proposal offered earlier this year by Ryan, and a plan from Rep. Ted Deutch, a Florida Democrat. Presenting the plans side-by-side at least gives the public and the press an honest foundation for asking more questions, something the Calmes story did not do.

For more from Trudy Lieberman on Social Security and entitlement reform, click here.

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Trudy Lieberman is a longtime contributing editor to the Columbia Journalism Review. She is the lead writer for The Second Opinion, CJR's healthcare desk, which is part of our United States Project on the coverage of politics and policy. She also blogs for Health News Review. Follow her on Twitter @Trudy_Lieberman. Tags: , , , , ,