Politico's Smith falsely suggested Clinton criticized Obama's specific Social Security proposal

››› ››› JEREMY HOLDEN

The Politico's Ben Smith falsely suggested that Sen. Hillary Clinton criticized Sen. Barack Obama's proposal to address the solvency of Social Security, which includes raising the payroll tax on workers earning more than $250,000 per year. In fact, while Clinton said in November 2007 that she opposes "lift[ing] the cap completely," she has not said that she opposes raising the cap on payroll taxes if the plan to do so includes a so-called "doughnut hole" exempting those earning less than $250,000 from a tax increase, as Obama has proposed.

In a June 13 post on his Politico blog previewing Sen. Barack Obama's speech that day highlighting Social Security reform, senior political writer Ben Smith falsely suggested that Sen. Hillary Clinton criticized Obama's proposal to address the solvency of Social Security, which includes raising the payroll tax on workers earning more than $250,000 per year. In fact, while Clinton said during a debate in November 2007 that she opposes "lift[ing] the cap completely," she did not say she opposed raising the cap on payroll taxes if the plan to do so includes a so-called "doughnut hole" exempting those earning less than $250,000 from a tax increase, as Obama has proposed.

In his post, Smith wrote: "Obama's challenging [Sen. John] McCain today on Social Security, a winning issue for Democrats in recent months -- hobbled somewhat by Hillary Clinton's primary criticism." He then quoted from "Obama's prepared remarks" of his June 13 speech, which included the following proposal for ensuring Social Security's future solvency: "I think the best way forward is to adjust the cap on the payroll tax so that people like me pay a little bit more and people in need are protected. ... And we should exempt anyone making under $250,000 from this increase so that the change doesn't burden middle-class Americans." Smith then noted that the Republican National Committee "responded with a reminder that 'Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY)' had attacked Obama on this," and that the RNC pointed in particular to Clinton's assertion at a November 15, 2007, Democratic presidential debate that, "I do not want to fix the problems of Social Security on the backs of middle-class families and seniors. If you lift the cap completely, that is a $1 trillion tax increase. I don't think we need to do that."

But Smith's suggestion that Clinton criticized the proposal Obama outlined in his June 13 speech -- to raise the cap on Social Security taxes for those earning more than $250,000 -- is false. Indeed, as the comments -- which were highlighted in a June 13 RNC press release -- make clear, Clinton specifically criticized "lift[ing] the cap completely." Obama -- as is clear from the comments Smith quoted -- has proposed "exempt[ing] anyone making under $250,000 from this increase so that the change doesn't burden middle-class Americans."

Smith's June 13 Politico blog post:

Obama's challenging McCain today on Social Security, a winning issue for Democrats in recent months -- hobbled somewhat by Hillary Clinton's primary criticism.

From Obama's prepared remarks in Columbus, OH:

Now, John McCain's ideas on Social Security amount to four more years of what was attempted and failed under George Bush. He said he supports private accounts for Social Security -- in his words, "along the lines that President Bush proposed." Yesterday he tried to deny that he ever took that position, leaving us wondering if he had a change of heart or a change of politics...

Here's where I would start. Right now, the Social Security payroll tax is capped. That means most middle-class families pay this tax on every dime they make, while millionaires and billionaires are only paying it on a very small percentage of their income. That's why I think the best way forward is to adjust the cap on the payroll tax so that people like me pay a little bit more and people in need are protected. That way we can extend the promise of Social Security without shifting the burden on to seniors. And we should exempt anyone making under $250,000 from this increase so that the change doesn't burden middle-class Americans. This means that 97% of Americans will see absolutely no change in their taxes under my plan -- 97%.

Now, there was a time when John McCain thought this wasn't such a bad idea. When he was asked a few years ago whether he could see himself lifting the cap on the payroll tax, he said, "I could." But today, he's attacking me for holding the very same position.

The RNC responded with a reminder that "Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY)" had attacked Obama on this -- a move, as pointed out here and elsewhere at the time -- very much in line with conservative talking points, as today shows:

"I do not want to fix the problems of Social Security on the backs of middle-class families and seniors. If you lift the cap completely, that is a $1 trillion tax increase. I don't think we need to do that," she said.

Person
Ben Smith
Show/Publication
Politico
Stories/Interests
Barack Obama, 2008 Elections
We've changed our commenting system to Disqus.
Instructions for signing up and claiming your comment history are located here.
Updated rules for commenting are here.