Remapping Debate offered another theme the follow-the-pack crowd has yet to scratch very deeply. It discussed other policy measures that could be used to stimulate the economy, like dusting off the “making work pay tax credit” targeted at working class families, or extending unemployment benefits. A policy analyst at the Economic Policy Institute told why these ideas were not on the table. Washington was talking only about payroll tax cuts, he said, because “Republicans generally support tax cuts. If we were really talking about the best way to stimulate the economy, we would be talking about infrastructure spending and public works projects.” In other words, the Republicans have framed the agenda—a good angle for press exploration.

Instead of following the pack on this one, it would be good if the press did some old-fashioned explanatory journalism and laid out the implications of the tax holiday, both for now and in the future. A new United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll shows that a majority of Americans support extending the payroll tax cut, despite concerns that extending the short-term reduction would increase the budget deficit. The support seems to be broad and bipartisan.

Even opponents of the tax holiday believe the cut will fly through Congress, since the
Democrats and Republicans, labor unions, and traditional supporters of Social Security think it’s a good idea. The public, especially those nearing Social Security age, need to know exactly what may be in store for them. What happens, as Blahous says, when the link between the payroll tax and the right to contributions is severed? What right will the public have to their benefits? What happens if Social Security morphs into something like health or auto insurance that won’t pay benefits if you stop paying the premiums? And then there’s the larger question: Are Americans being asked to spend their future right now?

Click here for more from Trudy Lieberman on Social Security and entitlement reform.

Trudy Lieberman is a fellow at the Center for Advancing Health and 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. Follow her on Twitter @Trudy_Lieberman.