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January 2013, Week 2

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Taking Aim at the Elderly

'Fiscal cliff' deal spared the aged, pundits complain

Fairness and Accuracy in Media Media Advisory
1/11/13
http://fair.org/take-action/media-advisories/taking-aim-at-the-elderly/

The outcome of the "fiscal cliff" did not impress many
in the corporate media, who have long favored some sort
of Simpson-Bowles "grand bargain" that would pair tax
increases with spending cuts to so-called "entitlement
programs." The last-minute tax deal fell well short on
both counts--but the failure to cut benefits seemed to
bother more pundits than anything else.

On Meet the Press (12/30/12), NBC's Tom Brokaw
complained that Obama "could help himself a lot if he
were tougher on the AARP"--by which he meant tougher on
seniors, raising the retirement age for Social Security
(which is really a cut in benefits--Extra!, 12/12) and
"means-testing" Medicare. (When the discussion was
taxes, Brokaw insisted that "$250,000 doesn't make you
rich," but proposals to means-test Medicare assume that
elderly retirees with incomes as low as $85,000 aren't
paying enough for healthcare--FireDogLake, 12/14/12.)

Brokaw went on:

     I think it would have been helpful to him this
     morning to have said, "Look, we get this tax deal
     done, I'm here to help on Medicare and Social
     Security reforms." We've got to address those,
     instead of just saying, "I'm going to protect the
     seniors who are there and the Medicare and
     Medicaid recipients." Give a little something.
     Show good faith about what needs to be done on
     deficit reduction and the entitlement programs.

In the Washington Post (1/3/13), David Ignatius raised
the canard that the self-funded entitlement programs
are connected to the budget deficit, arguing that Obama
should have

     come to the table with a grand vision of his own--
     a real strategy for cutting the deficit and the
     entitlement programs that drive it.... He didn't
     formulate a plan for long-term solvency partly
     because he didn't want to give up the political
     weapon of Social Security before the 2012
     election.

Ignatius concluded that "it's Obama's job to lead the
party toward entitlement reforms and other policies
that will be painful but necessary."

The Post's Fareed Zakaria (1/4/13) agreed that the
"administration did not go far enough on entitlement
reforms, and the Democratic Party as a whole is too
obstinately opposed to reform in this area."

New York Times columnist Tom Friedman (1/6/13) was more
hopeful that Obama would still come around to cutting
benefits:

     Maybe Obama has a strategy: First raise taxes on
     the wealthy, which gives him the credibility with
     his base to then make big spending cuts in the
     next round of negotiations. Could be. But raising
     taxes on the wealthy is easy.

Friedman added that "Obama has spent a lot of time
lately bashing the rich," and that it was time for him
"to stop just hammering the wealthy."

In Time magazine (1/21/13), Joe Klein complained of
Democrats:

     There is a smugness and lassitude to the party
     right now, an absence of creative new policy
     thinking, a tendency to defend corroded
     industrial-age welfare and entitlement programs.
     They even blocked a modest money-saving change in
     Social Security's cost-of-living index. And this
     is where the real challenge of Obama's second term
     will lie.

And liberal Bloomberg columnist Jonathan Alter (1/3/13)
criticized Obama's progressive critics before arguing:

     Just as Republicans must learn to live with tax
     increases, Democrats must learn to live with--and
     vote for--changes in entitlements. They should
     keep in mind that reforms such as a chained
     consumer price index, which alters the inflation
     calculation applied to Social Security, and means
     testing the benefits of wealthy retirees, do not
     threaten the social safety net.

     Neither Franklin Roosevelt on Social Security nor
     Lyndon Johnson on Medicare was wedded to any of
     the particulars of those programs--only the
     principle of guaranteed support from the
     government.

It is worth mentioning that Obama did, in fact, support
cutting Social Security benefits, endorsing Klein and
Alter's idea of a bogus change to inflation measurement
in order to siphon money away from older retirees (FAIR
Blog, 12/19/12). And the Affordable Care Act has
reduced the projected Medicare trust fund shortfall by
two-thirds--something that too often escapes media
attention.

Beyond that, there are plenty of ways for the federal
government to honor its commitments to Social Security
recipients and to pay for Medicare without punishing
those who rely on these programs for their retirement
and their health. The Medicare funding problem is a
matter of reducing healthcare inflation--which could be
addressed by limiting the growth of payments to doctors
and allowing the government to negotiate for lower drug
costs, for starters.

Far from being too tough on the rich, the fiscal cliff
tax deal was enormously beneficial to the wealthy--with
breaks on estate tax and investment income (Washington
Post, 1/8/13; CBPP.org, 1/4/13; CTJ.org, 1/10/13).
Other potential sources of revenue, like a tax on Wall
Street transactions, were basically off-limits.

But these arguments basically do not exist in the
corporate media, where well-to-do pundits piously argue
that the poor and the elderly should sacrifice
retirement benefits or pay more for healthcare as they
age.

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