Media outlets trumpeted likely Republican presidential candidate Gov. Chris Christie as striving to be “authentic and brave” for proposing harmful cuts to Social Security benefits that would include raising the retirement age.
Speaking in New Hampshire on April 14, the New Jersey governor laid out a series of proposed broad changes to Social Security benefits, including means tests for seniors making $80,000 a year in non-Social Security income and a phase-out of all payments for those making above $200,000. Christie also proposed raising the retirement age at which seniors can receive benefits to 69 and the early retirement age to 64.
Many media outlets characterized Christie as a straight-shooter for his proposal, describing him as attempting to paint himself as a teller of hard truths.
The Wall Street Journal, for example, wrote that Christie had “moved to depict himself as the fiscal truth-teller of the Republican presidential field” with his proposal, calling it “provocative, and risky.” A Washington Post opinion piece said Christie was “positioning himself, like other would-be presidents of the past, as the one guy willing to talk straight about the government's unsustainable finances.” An NBC News article on the proposal was titled “Chris Christie Sells 'Hard Truths' on Social Security Reform,” while a Business Insider headline declared, “Chris Christie's plan to win the White House is to tell people what they don't want to hear.” Fortune's Nina Easton claimed on Fox News' Happening Now that Christie's proposal “plays into the narrative that he's authentic and brave and tells it like it is.”
Painting Christie as seeking to be seen as a “brave” and “authentic” truth-teller in coverage of his proposed Social Security cuts not only helps the likely GOP candidate spread his desired narrative, but it masks the harmful impact such cuts would have on the poor and middle class.
“Raising the retirement age is terrible for the poor,” Vox explained, despite Christie's contention that his plan would only affect the rich. Raising the retirement and early retirement age would effectively constitute “an across-the-board benefit cut of almost 10 percent in Americans' lifetime Social Security benefits.” As economist Teresa Ghilarducci told PBS Newshour, “Evidence shows that many older workers are simply not able to work past traditional retirement age without substantial suffering. Reducing their retirement income and throwing them off medical insurance will create a new cohort of impoverished elderly, reversing the tangible gains in reducing old age poverty made since the Great Depression.”
What's more, Mother Jones' Kevin Drum noted, cutting benefits for those making over $200,000 is unlikely to save the program much money, given how few recipients earn that much. His estimations are backed up by a 2011 Center for Economic and Policy Research study, which found that 90 percent of Social Security recipients earn less than $50,000 in non-social security income.