King did mention one Medicare fix that figures prominently in solutions to Medicare’s fiscal troubles down the road. “There may be some means testing for wealthier Medicare recipients,” he said. There’s a lot more to that one, too, that Bolduan skipped over. Instead of offering any explanation about who might be affected by such a change, she simply said: “That’s going to be a tough pill to swallow for many Americans, you know.”

“Absolutely,” King replied. “But we’re in a swamp here, and we got to start getting to alligators aside.” Ah, the folksy sound bite!

All in all, King and Bolduan were signaling to Beltway types in the know rather than helping viewers through the morass of claims and counterclaims about Medicare and Social Security. And that brings me back to Canada. Many people I’ve met here said they learned nothing about what Obamacare is and is not from the US network news broadcasts they had watched. But when they tuned in to Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart, they got a better understanding of the health reform law. Will it take satire to help Americans understand what could happen to Medicare and Social Security in the unfolding budget negotiations?

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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.