Fox's Stuart Varney slams Democratic proposal to strengthen Social Security: "Here we go again, another tax hike proposal from the Democrats"
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Cuts to Social Security are not inevitable
Fox Broadcasting Co. used a 2017 report by the Social Security Board of Trustees nearly a year after its release to scare its viewers into thinking benefit cuts and further increases to the full retirement age are inevitable. In at least 93 news segments on May 21, dozens of Fox affiliates warned of an approaching time when Social Security tax revenue would be outpaced by its spending on benefits, without once mentioning that a modest revenue increase would solve the problem.
On just May 21, Fox affiliate stations aired at least 93 news reports on the 2017 trustees' report. Many of the segments had generally the same content as the one aired in the 4 a.m. hour on WXMI (FOX17) in Grand Rapids, MI:
ANCHOR: The Social Security Board of Trustees said [in] its 2017 annual report that 2022 will make the first time in more than 40 years that Social Security pays out more in benefits than it takes in. And so deficits are going to continue to be depleted out of the roughly $3 trillion in asset reserves. Now what does this exactly mean? A cut in benefit payouts of up to 23 percent might be made by then, just to keep the payouts going through 2091 if Congress doesn’t take stronger measures.
Now, reasons for the problems include people are living longer, lower interest rates affect the yields on special issue bonds, and more baby boomers are going to be entering the system with really not enough workers to cover for them. One trend for sure to continue is raising the age at which you get full benefit retirements.
These reports are misleading in multiple ways. Their claims that in the next few years, benefit cuts of over 20 percent might be necessary are flat-out false. Social Security has built up a nearly $3 trillion surplus so that full benefits could be paid out when there’s a large increase in new retirees, as America is currently experiencing with its retiring baby boomer generation. As the 2017 trustees' report (which all these Fox reports are citing) explains: “Social Security’s combined trust funds increase with the help of interest income through 2021 and would cover full payment of scheduled benefits on a timely basis until the trust fund reserves become depleted in 2034.” So, contrary to Fox’s fearmongering, there will be enough money to pay out full benefits for nearly two decades. Beginning in 2034, as the trustees' report notes (not 2022 as the FOX segments claim) Social Security faces a problem of not having enough revenue to pay out full benefits -- but it can be addressed without cutting benefits by simply raising additional revenue.
The other outcome mentioned in this Fox report (and in nearly two dozen others) is a continued increase in the retirement age to earn full Social Security benefits. But such a change is also not inevitable -- nor would it address the full problem. As a 2015 Congressional Budget Office analysis of policy options on the 75-year balance of Social Security demonstrated, raising the full retirement age to 70 (it is currently 67 for people born in 1960 and after) would not have as much positive effect on Social Security’s balance as, say, eliminating the taxable maximum limit on income (currently, income above $128,400 is not taxed for Social Security). Taxing income above the current maximum without increasing the benefits for those specific high-income earners would improve Social Security’s balance sheet even more. As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities explained in reaction to the 2017 trustees' report, the payroll tax currently “covers only about 83 percent of covered earnings, well short of the 90 percent figure envisioned in the 1977 Social Security amendments.”
Fox’s failure to suggest increasing Social Security revenue is even more glaring because it’s discussed as a solution in the very report Fox is citing. In its conclusion, the trustees' report states that “an immediate and permanent payroll tax rate increase of 2.76 percentage points” would be enough to keep the Social Security trust fund fully solvent through the next 75 years.
Furthermore, Fox is presenting the upcoming deficit in Social Security as a sudden crisis, but in fact it’s been anticipated for decades. The 1984 trustees' report explained that “income will generally exceed outgo, developing a substantial surplus each year. After about 2020 the reverse is true, with outgo exceeding income.” That report also anticipated the demographic issues the country is currently experiencing:
Several important long-range demographic trends, already under way, are anticipated to raise the proportion of the aged in the population in the next 75 years:
- Because of the large number of persons born shortly after World War II, rapid growth is expected in the aged population after the turn of the century.
- At the same time, low birth rates would hold down the number of young people.
- Projected declines in mortality rates also would increase the numbers of aged persons.
Methodology: Media Matters used iQ media to search for local news reports for the week of May 21-25 featuring discussion of possible Social Security benefit cuts using the search terms “Social Security” together with “2022.” The vast majority of results were from Fox affiliates on May 21
"Mean-spirited" and "cartoonish" depictions of Social Security Disability Insurance are a disservice to millions of Americans
Disability advocates hammered The Washington Post for its second misleading portrayal of Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) recipients, saying it was a “mean-spirited” and “cartoonish” illustration of the struggles of those living with poverty in rural America. The second feature-length profile published by the Post has drawn consternation for its poverty-shaming, while also generating fears that these misleading depictions from mainstream news outlets could set the pretext for draconian budget cuts to programs that provide basic economic security to millions of Americans.
The Post’s previous foray into coverage of SSDI recipients did not end well; Media Matters joined disability advocates in criticizing the paper’s “dystopian portrait” of the program and its enrollees and was later found to be replete with critical data errors. The piece promoted the same misleading talking points about the program that are commonly touted by right-wing media. Despite these concerns, the Post’s editorial board used the deeply flawed article as its proof for justifying unnecessary cuts to the SSDI program.
The paper’s June 2 article in its series on disability coverage is just as misleading and problematic as the first. The article, titled “Generations, disabled,” attempts to chronicle the trials of a low-income Missouri family that relies on meager SSDI benefits. The article relied almost exclusively on anecdotal evidence drawn from the Tidwell family to buttress characterizations of SSDI and its recipients as succumbing to multi-generational dependence on federal assistance.
The article earnestly focused on the fact that one or more members of four generations of Tidwells have received federal assistance and detailed their daily routines in a way that political scientist Katherine Gallagher Robbins of the Center for American Progress (CAP) likened to the depictions of poverty and disability in Of Mice and Men. As CAP’s Rebecca Vallas pointed out in her damning review, “the article’s text makes no mention” of the fact “that disability often runs in families” and neglects to mention that disability benefits are “incredibly hard to get.”
The Post seemed to depict generational disability as a cultural problem, but as Annie Lowrey of The Atlantic pointed out, the article never provided any data to prove this or demonstrate that multiple generations of a family receiving SSDI is evidence of them being undeserving. Vox correspondent Matthew Yglesias voiced even stronger criticism, labeling the article as “incredibly mean-spirited” and “smack[ing] of the worst kind of moral panic.”
Issues with the Post’s story didn’t end there. In a June 5 column published by The Poynter Institute, journalist S.I. Rosenbaum added that the article misled readers by claiming to describe a family “on disability” without ever verifying that the Tidwell family are indeed all receiving benefits from SSDI, rather than other anti-poverty programs.
The generally exploitative tone of the piece was not the primary problem with the Post’s return to the topic of disability. The biggest problem created by the piece is how it could be used by political interests seeking to implement deep cuts to the American social safety net.
As Vallas pointed out in her response, by “pushing the nastiest of myths about Social Security disability benefits and the people who rely on them,” the Post set the pretext for budget cuts that will restrict access to the program. The Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities voiced the same concern, arguing that “reporting by anecdote runs the risk of fostering harmful policy changes” such as those already proposed by the Trump administration. Economist Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) came to a similar conclusion, mocking the Post’s “poetic description” of farming jobs available in rural Missouri, which suggested that disability recipients simply refuse to work those jobs. Baker added that the United States actually has one of the least generous disability programs in the world, but countries with more generous programs are not suffering labor shortages:
The obvious next segment in this series would have a Post reporter going to Germany or the Netherlands or some of the other countries that manages to have a larger percentage of their population working even though they have considerably more generous disability systems. The article can tell readers how they manage to structure their programs so that everyone doesn't quit their jobs and fake disability so that they can live off the government. For some reason, I don't think this is where the Post series is going.
We have already seen a Post report on SSDI result in the paper’s editorial board calling for unnecessary cuts to the program in a way eerily reminiscent to Fox News’ campaign against the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which immediately resulted in Republican-authored legislation in Congress slashing the program and eventually trickled down to GOP-led state houses. The Trump administration is already targeting Social Security’s disability program for budget cuts next year and media outlets have largely failed to hold the president accountable for an obviously broken campaign promise to safeguard Social Security. The American people would be well-served if, rather than publishing more dehumanizing portrayals of disability recipients, the Post and other news outlets contextualize the hardship millions of Americans would face if SSDI and other vital programs are subjected to new cuts and restrictions.
On May 23, President Donald Trump released his vision for the fiscal year 2018 federal budget titled, “A New Foundation for American Greatness,” which called for deep cuts to Medicaid, Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), student loan assistance, and anti-poverty programs geared toward working- and middle-class Americans while providing gargantuan tax cuts for top income earners and increasing military spending. As details of the budget began to surface in the lead up to the announcement, Media Matters identified some of the best take downs from journalists and experts hammering the proposal for its “ruthless” cuts.
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Trump promised not to touch Social Security during the campaign, but some reporters reframed that broken promise for him
A number of usually reliable reporters were duped by White House spin that President Donald Trump’s draconian budget proposal for fiscal year 2018 to slash spending for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) was not a violation of his major campaign pledge to protect Social Security from cuts.
During his June 16, 2015, announcement to run for president, Trump clearly and unequivocally promised that if he was elected, he would “save Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security without cuts.” Trump’s campaign declaration fit previous statements he made in the run-up to his announcement, wherein he claimed he was “the only [Republican] who won’t cut Social Security” and stated “I am going to save Social Security without any cuts.” Trump even hit then-presidential candidate Mike Huckabee for copying his call to safeguard Social Security with “no cuts” and later reiterated his promise to “save” the program while attacking former presidential candidate and current member of Trump’s cabinet Ben Carson:
Ben Carson wants to abolish Medicare - I want to save it and Social Security.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 26, 2015
After Trump’s repeated statements that he would not cut Social Security, the White House’s decision to include significant cuts to SSDI in its 2018 budget request represents a broken campaign promise. Some journalists -- including Washington Post reporter Philip Bump, Los Angeles Times columnist Michael Hiltzik, and NBC News reporter Benjy Sarlin -- caught on to what was actually being proposed, and Vox’s Dylan Matthews stated that these cuts clearly break “a crucial campaign promise.” Yet, despite this, several other journalists fell for the White House’s misleading spin.
In the midst of an otherwise brutal recap of Trump’s budget, HuffPost reporter Arthur Delaney claimed “the document mostly honors Trump’s unorthodox campaign promise not to cut Social Security or Medicare” before actually quoting Mick Mulvaney, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, as he expounded on proposed cuts to “disability insurance.”* In her write-up of the budget that detailed the profound impact it will have on low-income communities, New York Times reporter Yamiche Alcindor noted that Trump “would cut access to disability payments through Social Security” but casually added “the main function of Social Security — retirement income — would flow unimpeded.” New York Times reporter Julie Hirschfeld Davis included similar misleading language in her report on the budget, arguing, “The blueprint also steers clear of changing Social Security’s retirement program or Medicare” and promoting the administration’s claim that Trump’s promise to protect “retirement” was intact.
Washington Post reporters Damian Paletta and Robert Costa also fell for the White House’s misdirection gambit, writing of the president’s campaign rhetoric: “Trump insisted that they could not cut retirement benefits for Social Security.” NPR reporter Scott Horsley also detailed the “significant cuts to social safety net programs” while promoting the Trump administration’s spin that the campaign promise was merely to “preserve” the “Social Security retirement program.” Axios reporter Jonathan Swan managed to write a review of Trump’s budget that committed both sins; first claiming that the Trump budget fulfilled “his campaign promise” not to touch Social Security and later claiming that it merely would not affect retirees**:
ORIGINAL: President Trump's 2018 budget proposal on Tuesday won't reform Social Security or Medicare — in line with his campaign promise — but it will make serious cuts to other entitlement programs. A source with direct knowledge tells me the Trump budget will save $1.7 trillion on the mandatory side over the next ten years.
CURRENT: President Trump's 2018 budget proposal on Tuesday won't cut Social Security payments to retirees or Medicare, but it will make serious cuts to other entitlement programs. A source with direct knowledge tells me the Trump budget will save $1.7 trillion on the mandatory side over the next ten years.
*The HuffPost report was corrected after pressure from readers and disability advocates to include the word “mostly.” The original post did not include that conditional language and incorrectly stated “the document honors Trump’s unorthodox campaign promise not to cut Social Security or Medicare.”
**The Axios report was changed after its initial publication but no editor’s note or correction was added to indicate the revision. Media Matters had criticized the original language of the article in a May 22 blog.
Budget proposal will include deep cuts to Medicaid and Social Security, programs Trump promised to protect during campaign
Multiple news outlets have reported on the harsh human toll of President Donald Trump’s budget proposal, which is expected to gut programs that guarantee basic living standards, including parts of Medicaid and Social Security. These cuts directly contradict Trump’s promise to save the programs “without cuts.”
The White House first hinted at slashing programs that help working- and middle-class Americans on February 26 when, according to Bloomberg, Trump floated proposals to increase defense spending by 10 percent while cutting programs including assistance for low-income Americans while still promising not to touch Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. The White House claimed these drastic cuts would help spur economic growth, an absurd claim that was resoundingly ridiculed by economists as “deep voodoo” and “wholly unrealistic.” The administration’s initial budgetary proposals were so drastic and poorly thought out that they stunned many observers and experts. The White House even advocated cutting assistance to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which would be particularly harmful to “small-town America,” and Meals on Wheels, which “doesn’t make economic sense” and would cruelly deny millions of elderly Americans basic companionship and a hot meal.
On May 21, The Washington Post reported that the White House will unveil a formal federal budget proposal that goes even further than the administration’s earlier indications by proposing “massive cuts to Medicaid” and other anti-poverty public assistance programs. On May 22, Axios reported that the president plans to cut $1.7 trillion over 10 years from federal assistance programs including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), which collectively serve tens of millions of people. (Axios incorrectly stated that Trump’s budget plan “won’t reform Social Security or Medicare,” before outlining Trump’s plan to cut SSDI and incorporate massive Medicaid restrictions that would become law if his Obamacare repeal plan is ever enacted.)
As details of Trump’s budget plan continued to leak, some media outlets explained the devastating consequences for millions of Americans if the White House gets its way and these drastic cuts take effect. They also explained that Trump’s embrace of deep cuts to components of Medicaid and Social Security represent a betrayal of his promises from the campaign.
CNN chief business correspondent Christine Romans explained on the May 22 edition of CNN Newsroom that much of the money being cut from mandatory spending would come from Medicaid, which could see up to a 25 percent reduction in federal funding, pushing the financial burden onto the states and kicking 14 million people off their health insurance programs. Romans mentioned that protecting Medicaid is one of many campaign promises from Trump “that are turning out not to be true.”
On the May 22 edition of MSNBC Live, host Chris Jansing went even further in breaking down the human toll of Trump’s budget cuts with NBC News senior editor Beth Fouhy and New York Times national reporter Yamiche Alcindor. The show aired part of an interview with a mother of two young children, who told Fouhy that if these cuts are enacted, the costs of care for her child with cerebral palsy will bankrupt her. Then they showed a clip of Trump on the campaign trail proclaiming that he would “save Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security without cuts.” Alcindor discussed a report she wrote for the Times earlier this month about the human costs of budget cuts that would lead eliminate programs that help provide small communities with access to clean drinking water, drug rehabilitation centers, and jobs programs:
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A Longform Foray Into SSDI Echoed Conservative Misinformation, Was Replete With Data Errors
Disability advocates hammered a faulty feature article published last month in The Washington Post that portrayed disability insurance as a form of long-term unemployment insurance in rural communities and claimed that as many as a third of people in those communities received disability assistance. Advocates analyzed the article’s data and found that the Post had vastly overstated the number of people receiving assistance on the program, prompting the paper to issue a correction. That correction, however, ignores the article’s more devastating flaws.
The Post’s March 30 article titled, “Disabled, or just desperate?” followed Alabama resident Desmond Spencer and his family as they struggled to make ends meet and narrated his unease about applying for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits. The piece cited data purportedly provided by the Social Security Administration to argue that Spencer’s condition was typical of working-aged adults in rural communities around the country. A Media Matters analysis of the actual content found that it was filled with tropes, gimmicks, and dog whistles frequently promoted by right-wing opponents of SSDI. Disability advocates questioned the portrayal of a single anecdotal account as representative of millions of Americans, and Rebecca Vallas of the Center for American Progress (CAP) slammed the Post for creating a “dystopian portrait” of an SSDI system “riddled with rampant abuse.”
A week after publishing the initial report, the Post’s editorial board cited the flawed article as part of its case in favor of unnecessary “reforms” of the disability insurance system that would add even more restrictions to SSDI. Media Matters again criticized the Post for mischaracterizing the program and peddling myths about the social safety net common in conservative media. Economist Dean Baker also browbeat the editorial for targeting a program that helps provide basic living standards at a time of rampant economic inequality.
The core argument forwarded by the initial Post report was that as many as one-third of working-age adults in rural communities are reliant on SSDI for most or all of their monthly income. Yet, the paper did not acknowledge whether or not these people are actually disabled. Instead, the article wove a narrative of low-income Americans struggling to find gainful work who end up on disability as a form of long-term unemployment. An April 13 blog published by CAP outlined how analysts attempted “to replicate [the Post’s] analysis” only to find that “their numbers are flat-out wrong.” After a careful inspection, CAP discovered that the Post’s numbers overcounted the number of children and working-age adults receiving SSDI, and failed to correct for the double-counting of roughly 1.3 million people. CAP even uncovered that the paper was missing data entirely for nearly 100 of the “rural counties” the article was supposed to be analyzing. In response to the these revelations, the editors responsible for the Post’s report issued a lengthy correction to the article and updated it throughout to remove and amend data.
In an April 18 blog post, the team at CAP noted that the fixes still didn’t go far enough since more accurate data actually disproved the Post’s core argument. The revised and corrected report is still built on questionable data and it continues overcounting the number of working-age adults reliant on disability insurance. Most importantly, the core claim that disability checks are a primary source of income for “as many as one-third of working-age adults” in rural communities encompassing “large swaths of the country” appears to be completely false; CAP’s team could find only one county -- out of 3,143 -- that fit the Post’s dystopian description of disability. From the Center For American Progress’s TalkPoverty.org (emphasis added):
Even using The Post’s flawed methods, they were only able to find one county—out of more than 3,100 counties nationwide—where the story’s central claim that “as many as one-third of working-age adults are receiving monthly disability checks” holds up. Not a single other county even comes close. In fact, The Post’s own analysis—which it has now made available in a public data file next to the story, yields an average rate of about 9.1 percent of working-age adults receiving benefits across rural counties—just three percentage points higher than the national average.
And yet the article is framed as follows: “Across large swaths of the country,” the article still reads, “disability has become a force that has reshaped scores of mostly white, almost exclusively rural communities, where as many as one-third of working-age adults are receiving monthly disability checks.”
If by “large swaths” and “scores of… rural communities” The Post means McDowell County, West Virginia, population less than 21,000 residents—and nowhere else in America—then sure.
But the fact is there’s a word for using data this way: cherry-picking.
Experts Browbeat The Post’s Call For “Reform” Of SSDI At A Time Of “Unprecedented Inequality”
The Washington Post’s editorial board used its paper’s own flawed profile of Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) recipients to justify the unsubstantiated claim that the program discourages people with disabilities from working and therefore “needs reform” in the form of increased restrictions and benefit cuts.
On March 30, the Post ran a profile of a struggling low-income family as a proxy for millions of Americans who are dependent on SSDI that bordered on poverty shaming. The article misleadingly characterized SSDI recipients and the social safety net in ways that echoed myths commonly peddled by right-wing media outlets.
Then, on April 8, the Post‘s editorial board referred back to the paper’s portrayal of SSDI while misleadingly claiming that the program’s eligibility requirements create “every incentive to cease working,” and that those requirements are part of the reason so few beneficiaries ever return to the workforce. The editorial board bizarrely added that recipients would be incentivized to work if SSDI benefits could be scaled down gradually as workers with disabilities returned to the workforce. Yet, the Post makes no mention that SSDI already has a return to work trial period where recipients can attempt to rejoin the labor force without losing assistance. Even more peculiar, while it argued for unneeded reforms, by the editorial board’s own admission the program is not actually rife with wasteful spending and recipients are only eligible if their disability prevents them from working. From The Washington Post:
Nor is the program’s growth the result of rampant fraud, as sometimes alleged; structural factors such as population aging explain much recent growth. Nevertheless, at a time of declining workforce participation, especially among so-called prime-age males (those between 25 and 54 years old), the nation’s long-term economic potential depends on making sure work pays for all those willing to work. And from that point of view, the Social Security disability program needs reform.
In particular, SSDI’s rules require that applicants be unable to engage in any significant paying work, or “substantial gainful activity,” in the program’s argot. Would-be recipients thus have every incentive to cease working completely to qualify — and to avoid rehabilitation lest they lose cash benefits and that all-important health care. And, in fact, only a tiny percentage of SSDI beneficiaries return to the labor force once they exit. “The decision to apply, in many cases, is a decision to effectively abandon working altogether,” as [Washington Post reporter Terrence] McCoy wrote. “For the severely disabled, this choice is, in essence, made for them. But for others, it’s murkier. Aches accumulate. Years pile up. Job prospects diminish.” The typical SSDI recipient now is a middle-aged worker whose main ailment is musculoskeletal or psychological.
The Post is overselling the notion that SSDI creates an incentive for people with disabilities to abstain from work -- and it is doing so while linking back to research on ailments of SSDI recipients that was published in 1995. In actuality, SSDI recipients are only eligible to receive benefits if the Social Security Administration agrees that their disability prevents them from working. According to the Center for American Progress (CAP), which analyzed data collected by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), eligibility requirements in the United States are already “among the strictest in the world” and program benefits “are less generous than most other countries’ disability benefit programs.” According to CAP, almost 80 percent of SSDI applicants are denied during the initial application and “thousands of applicants die” annually waiting to learn if they will receive assistance. Furthermore, CAP also found that disability recipients who are approved tend to skew older and had worked in physically demanding jobs before applying for benefits.
An April 9 blog from Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) economist and co-founder Dean Baker browbeat the Post for complaining about people with disabilities not working when inequality is at an “unprecedented” level -- the paper’s tone deafness is all the more apparent at a time when the wealthiest Americans live a decade longer than their low-income counterparts. Baker continued by pointing out that the benefits from SSDI are far from lavish, averaging a mere $1,170 a month, which amounts to less than a full-time job paying the federal minimum wage.
The editorial board closed its call for needlessly reforming SSDI by claiming that its aim is to “help people with disabilities retain the earnings and dignity that come from work,” an argument that mirrored rhetoric from the right-wing Heritage Foundation for a more “compassionate” policy of work incentives and dropping recipients after a set time on the program.
The Post’s repeated mischaracterization of SSDI follows a long history of misinformation from mainstream outlets, which often publish error-riddled stories filled with anecdotal evidence portraying disability recipients as undeserving. These pieces sound as if they come from right-wing media, which have spent years attacking the program and its recipients.
The Post Is Just Asking -- Are Millions Of Americans Legitimately “Disabled, Or Just Desperate” For Work?
A Washington Post profile of a struggling low-income family painted what the Center for American Progress called a “dystopian portrait” of the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program and its recipients. The negative framing of the disabled echoed misleading portrayals commonly promoted by right-wing media.
The in-depth March 30 article used a low-income family in rural Alabama as a proxy for rural communities around the country that have become increasingly dependent on the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program over the past two decades. Unfortunately, the Post’s profile of the state of disability in the United States pushed a number of misleading characterizations of SSDI and its recipients that are commonly peddled by right-wing media outlets when they target the social safety net:
Rebecca Vallas of the Center for American Progress chided the Post for creating a “dystopian portrait where Social Security disability benefits represent out-of-control government spending riddled with rampant abuse.” Vallas wrote that qualification for the program is actually “incredibly hard” and linked to July 2014 testimony from the chief actuary of the Social Security Administration, which explained that aging Baby Boomers, natural population growth, and women entering the workforce are primarily responsible for increased disability usage. Most importantly, Vallas concluded her response by noting that narratives similar to that published by the Post have been used in the past by conservative opponents of safety net programs.
A response from Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) analyst Kathleen Romig hit the Post’s write-up of SSDI for focusing so intently on “an atypical case: a young applicant in a county with an unusually high share of disability beneficiaries.” Romig also noted that it’s misleading to conflate absence of local job opportunities with a spike in disability cases because applicants must “prove that they can’t earn substantial wages anywhere across the economy — regardless of whether such work exists where they live.”
A March 31 statement from the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (CCD) added even more critical context missing from the Post’s report, including statistics detailing the strict standards for SSDI, the high likelihood that recipients are dealing with a terminal illness, and the fact that the number of people receiving benefits through SSDI has “level[ed] off and is projected to decline further in the coming years.”
The pitfalls and blind spots bedeviling the Post’s foray into disability coverage are nothing new. In 2013, NPR’s Planet Money and All Things Considered and WBEZ’s This American Life promoted an error-riddled story using anecdotal evidence to portray disability recipients as grifters gaming the system. Months later, CBS News’ 60 Minutes aired a similarly misleading report, which falsely claimed SSDI is “ravaged by waste and fraud” and promoted biased research produced by partisan opponents seeking to gut the program.
The Post’s mischaracterization of SSDI as a seemingly simple way for low-income Americans to secure a source of income is the kind of misinformation disability advocates have come to expect from Fox News, which has spent years attacking the program and its recipients.
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President Donald Trump’s plan to beef up the defense budget by an additional $54 billion at the expense of civilian domestic spending, which he will unveil tonight before a joint session of Congress, has been derided by economists and experts for being "wholly unrealistic" and “voodoo” economics.
Bloomberg reported on February 26, that Trump’s first budget proposal would call for a $54 billion -- more than 9 percent -- increase in defense spending to be paid for with reductions to discretionary domestic spending, which Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) described as the budgetary equivalent of taking “a meat ax to programs that benefit the middle-class.” White House press secretary Sean Spicer confirmed reports of the president’s budget priorities in a February 27 press briefing, adding that Trump would discuss his budget plan in more detail during his February 28 address to Congress.
Economists and experts have hammered Trump for months for proposing dramatic and seemingly unnecessary increases in defense spending. An October 19 article in New York magazine described Trump’s promises of new defense expenditures as “a random grab bag of military goodies, untethered to any coherent argument” because he lacked any vision or purpose for increasing funding to the military. According to figures compiled by the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, American defense spending already eclipses the military spending of the next seven countries combined:
The reception for Trump’s new budget outline has been similarly harsh. New York Times columnist and Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman derided the president’s claim that a “revved up economy” could fund new tax cuts and spending increases as “deep voodoo” -- alluding to Trump’s embrace of trickle-down economics. Washington Post contributor and Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) senior fellow Jared Bernstein slammed Trump’s “wholly unrealistic” budget outline in a February 28 column and chided the president for claiming that he can simultaneously increase military spending, cut taxes on high-income earners and corporations, and reduce the federal deficit -- all while leaving vital entitlement programs alone. In order to even approach a balanced budget in 10 years, Trump would have to remove almost everything else in the budget:
According to a February 27 analysis from the CBPP, Trump's proposal, when coupled with his plan to boost infrastructure investments, would mean nondefense spending would see a whopping 15 percent reduction. The reason for the outsized hit to nondefense discretionary spending is that the programs covered by that part of the federal budget -- education, energy, affordable housing, infrastructure investments, law enforcement, foreign aid, some veterans' benefits, etc. -- only account for a small part of all federal spending. The largest part of the federal budget is mandatory spending for entitlement programs including Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, other veterans's benefits, and unemployment insurance. From the Congressional Budget Office:
Trump’s proposed cuts to the State Department are so onerous that more than 120 retired generals signed an open letter to congressional leaders warning of their ramifications. One co-signer told CBS News that such steep cuts would be “consigning us to a generational war,” and the letter itself quoted Secretary of Defense James Mattis, who argued during his time at the head of U.S. Central Command that “if you don’t fully fund the State Department, then I need to buy more ammunition.”
ThinkProgress blasted Trump’s proposals to cut the State Department along with domestic spending in the name of increasing national defense because such cuts would actually undermine national security. The article cited recent congressional testimony from Center for American Progress senior fellow Larry Korb, who testified that “our national security will suffer” if the federal budget prioritized the Pentagon at the expense of other agencies.
Trump is notorious for pushing bogus claims about the economy and the federal budget. He has been derided by hundreds of economists for pushing right-wing myths about the economy and the federal debt, and routine criticisms of his unfounded claims were a mainstay of the presidential campaign in 2016. As was the case last year, the budgetary, fiscal, and tax policies Trump has supported since taking office simply don’t add up.
After President-elect Donald Trump pledged during his presidential run to rescind an executive action on immigration that protects from deportation thousands of undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as minors, cable news outlets routinely discussed the program as a political tool without explaining how it benefits Americans and the American economy.
The 2012 executive action known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, allows almost 800,000 people to study, work, and live their lives in the United States without fear of deportation. As a result of not being forced to live in the shadows, DACA recipients have generated more government revenue in the form of sales and property taxes, and created new jobs through increased consumer spending and boosted wages. The program has benefited the entire economy, but cable news coverage of DACA depicts the program as if it impacts only those who it protects from deportation.
Media Matters reviewed how evening news programs on Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC covered DACA from August 31 -- when Trump announced he would put an end to the program -- to December 15. Of the 20 qualifying segments on DACA during that time period, its economic impact was mentioned only once. Even then, the discussion failed to provide many facts on the scope of the program’s benefits.
Meanwhile, new reports investigating the effect of rescinding DACA conclude that doing so would do more harm than good for all Americans, not just the thousands of undocumented immigrants protected by the program. On December 13, Univision reported on a study from the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, which found that ending DACA would reduce contributions to Social Security and Medicare by $19.9 billion and $4.6 billion, respectively, over 10 years. On December 15, Telemundo reported that if approximately 3.4 million undocumented immigrant homeowners, many of whom are protected under DACA, lost protections from deportation, the resulting mass deportation “could hit the housing market, causing losses of up to $9.3 billion.” Additionally, a November 18 report by the Center for American Progress estimated that “ending DACA would wipe away at least $433.4 billion from the U.S. gross domestic product” over the next 10 years.
Cable news networks’ failure to connect the dots on how anti-immigration policies would negatively affect the economy is a disservice to voters whose decisions at the polls were guided by a desire for a strong economy.
Media Matters conducted a Nexis search of transcripts from Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC using the search terms "allcap(DACA) or dreamer or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals" for programs airing between 5 p.m. and 11 p.m. from August 31 through December 15. We reviewed the transcripts for segments discussing the economic impact of DACA. This included reports from correspondents and guest panels and excluded brief mentions of DACA that did not generate meaningful discussion between hosts or guests.