The evening news programs on ABC, NBC, and CBS have yet to cover Sen. John McCain's statement regarding Social Security -- that “Americans have got to understand that we are paying present-day retirees with the taxes paid by young workers in America today. And that's a disgrace. It's an absolute disgrace, and it's got to be fixed” -- even though they have broadcast other remarks McCain made at the same town hall meeting.
ABC's World News, NBC's Nightly News, and the CBS Evening News have yet to cover the following statement Sen. John McCain made about Social Security during a July 7 town hall meeting in Denver: “Americans have got to understand that we are paying present-day retirees with the taxes paid by young workers in America today. And that's a disgrace. It's an absolute disgrace, and it's got to be fixed.” According to a Washington Post article by reporters Jonathan Weisman and Michael D. Shear, McCain “sought to clarify his remarks” by saying young people are, in McCain's words, “paying so much that they are paying into a system that they won't receive benefits from on its present track that its on, that's the point.” However, as Talking Points Memo's Josh Marshall has noted, McCain appeared on CNN's American Morning on July 8 -- the day before his reported attempt to “clarify his remarks” -- and echoed his July 7 remarks by stating during a discussion of Social Security that young people “pay their taxes and, right now, their taxes are going to pay the retirement of present-day retirees. That's why it's broken. That's why we can fix it.” All three networks' nightly news programs have ignored McCain's Social Security comments, and NBC and CBS have done so even though they aired clips of other portions of McCain's Denver town hall meeting.
At the July 7 town hall meeting, McCain had the following exchange with a questioner on the topic of Social Security:
QUESTIONER: Many of the proposals that are being created for people of my generation no longer include Social Security because of the belief that it will not be there. Tell me how you plan to fix it.
McCAIN: Thank you very much. I'd like to start out by giving you a little straight talk. Under the present set-up, because we've mortgaged the -- your -- our children's futures, you will not have Social Security benefits that present-day retirees have unless we fix it, and Americans have got to understand that. Americans have got to understand that we are paying present-day retirees with the taxes paid by young workers in America today. And that's a disgrace. It's an absolute disgrace, and it's got to be fixed. Now, how do you fix it? Now, how do you fix it? You fix it by reaching across the aisle, and you say to the Democrats: “Sit down with me at the table. Sit down with me the way Ronald Reagan and Tip O'Neill did the last time that Social Security was in deep trouble.” And that was way back in 1983.
During the July 8 edition of CNN's American Morning, McCain was interviewed by anchor John Roberts:
ROBERTS: Senator, I'm sure that you're also hearing from them about Social Security, because you say that --
ROBERTS: -- part of this -- part of this plan, if you're going to balance the budget, is to reform Social Security.
ROBERTS: You've talked about the idea of private accounts, as President Bush tried to get through and couldn't. What else would you do to reform Social Security?
McCAIN: I would sit down with Democrats and Republicans the way Ronald Reagan and Tip O'Neill did in 1983.
McCAIN: And they said, “OK, we've got everything on the table here, let's come to an agreement.” The approval rating of Congress right now is 12 percent last time I saw. I know how to work across the aisle. I've done it with Democrats and I've done it for many, many years. And we'll sit down across the table with the backing of the American people.
ROBERTS: But do you have any idea on what you could do?
McCAIN: On the privatization of accounts, which you just mentioned, I'd like to respond to that. I want young workers to be able to, if they choose, to take part of their own money, which is their taxes, and put it into an account, which has their name on it. Now, that's a voluntary thing, it's for younger people. It would not affect any -- any present-day retirees or the system as necessary. So let's describe it for what it is. They pay their taxes and, right now, their taxes are going to pay the retirement of present-day retirees. That's why it's broken. That's why we can fix it. We can do it together, Republicans and Democrats alike.
According to a post on Mother Jones' MojoBlog, the Economic Policy Institute's Jared Bernstein said in an email that McCain's July 7 statement “betrays a really quite scary lack of knowledge about basic government,” later adding: “I guess the quote suggests he knows about the financing, but the way he says it, it sounds like he just found out and is shocked.” From the blog post by Mother Jones Washington fellow Nick Baumann:
Jared Bernstein, the director of the Living Standards program at the Economic Policy Institute, said in an email that he was shocked by McCain's statement:
That is truly an amazing quote. It's like he's saying, “I just found out that taxes come from people ... that's a disgrace.” It betrays a really quite scary lack of knowledge about basic government. ... I know he's not into this kind of stuff, but ... it would be hard not to know about the intergenerational financing of Social Security. It's the biggest government transfer -- 1/5 of the damn budget. I guess the quote suggests he knows about the financing, but the way he says it, it sounds like he just found out and is shocked.
I can't imagine how this will play if it goes at all viral. Maybe Social Security is no longer the third rail, but to call it a disgrace ought to be seen as over the top. On the other hand, maybe people will agree with him.
Center for Economic Policy Research co-director Dean Baker also wrote about McCain's July 7 comments in a July 9 post at The American Prospect's Beat the Press blog: “Of course present-day retirees have always been paid their benefits from the taxes paid by current workers. That has been true from Social Security's inception.”
From the July 7 edition of NBC's Nightly News with Brian Williams, which aired a clip of McCain's speech at the Denver town hall meeting during a report by NBC News chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell:
MITCHELL: Barack Obama didn't let a broken airplane stop him from debating John McCain on the economy long distance, despite being detoured. With gasoline at $4.11 a gallon, both candidates claim to have solutions for lost jobs and rising prices.
On taxes, McCain would lower the corporate tax rate, repeal the alternative minimum tax and make the Bush tax cuts permanent, although he used to oppose them. In contrast, Obama would raise corporate tax rates, give rebates to lower and middle-income workers and the elderly, but let the Bush tax cuts expire for those making more than $250,000 a year. McCain says that would amount to a tax increase.
OBAMA: My plan will not raise your taxes, not your income tax, not your payroll taxes, not your capital gains taxes, not any of your taxes.
MITCHELL: The two candidates also disagree on trade. McCain supports trade deals like NAFTA; Obama now says he'd reopen NAFTA to negotiate tougher labor rules, although experts say renegotiating NAFTA is no longer possible. Another major difference: the federal budget deficit. Obama supports paying for new programs before increasing the deficit. McCain issued a white paper today promising to balance the budget by the end of his first term, 2013, something independent experts say just isn't possible.
As both candidates search for politically palatable solutions for an economy that is defying easy answers. Andrea Mitchell, NBC News, New York.
From a report on the July 7 edition of the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric, which included a clip from McCain's Denver town hall meeting:
KATIE COURIC (anchor): Meanwhile, in the presidential campaign, the Democratic Party announced today the final night of the party's convention in Denver next month will be moved outside. Barack Obama will accept the nomination at Invesco Field, where the Broncos play football. The stadium seats 76,000 people.
Meanwhile, Senator Obama had to postpone a trip to North Carolina today. His plane from Chicago made an unscheduled landing in St. Louis after a problem developed in the tail. Senator Obama ended up delivering a speech from St. Louis. Both he and John McCain, who campaigned in Denver, are this week making the economy job one. Here's [Capitol Hill correspondent] Chip Reid.
[begin video clip]
REID: Both presidential candidates laid out their economic plans today. For John McCain, there are two basic themes: cut spending --
McCAIN: I'll veto every single bill with wasteful pork barrel spending on it. You can count on it.
REID: -- and cut taxes.
McCAIN: The choice in this election is stark and simple. Senator Obama will raise your taxes -- I won't.
REID: A position that had some passionate fans at today's town meeting in Denver.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Tax us when we eat! You tax us when we sleep! You tax us every which way! Get off of my back!
McCAIN: If you're not busy, I'd like to take you with me wherever I go. I --
REID: McCain also now supports extending the Bush income tax cuts, even though he once opposed them as too generous to the wealthy.
From a report on the July 7 edition of ABC's World News with Charles Gibson, which included two clips from McCain's Denver town hall meeting:
CHARLES GIBSON (anchor): John McCain also addressed the subject of the economy today. It is the number one issue on the minds of voters. So, how do their proposals on the economy stack up against one another? We asked our senior political correspondent Jake Tapper and Ron Claiborne, who covers McCain for us, to make a point-by-point comparison.
[begin video clip]
CLAIBORNE: The centerpiece of McCain's economic plan is cutting taxes to stimulate the economy. He proposes lowering corporate tax rates from 35 to 25 percent and retaining the Bush tax cuts that he once voted against.
McCAIN: When you raise taxes in a bad economy, you eliminate jobs. I'm not going to let that happen.
TAPPER: I'm Jake Tapper. On taxes, Barack Obama focuses his tax cuts on middle- and lower-income wage earners. He would increase taxes for higher wage earners.
CLAIBORNE: On the energy crisis, McCain has proposed more offshore drilling for oil and producing more nuclear energy.
McCAIN: We will build at least 45 new nuclear power plants that will create over 700,000 good jobs to construct and operate them.
TAPPER: On the energy crisis, Obama favors developing more alternative energy sources.