FOX News senior White House correspondent Jim Angle repeated Republican spin that Social Security is "heading for an iceberg ... unless significant reforms are undertaken," but failed to include the view of Democrats and many independent economists that Social Security is not in fact in crisis. Nor did he note that many believe that President Bush's plan to partially privatize Social Security will make the situation worse.
On the January 6 edition of FOX News' Special Report with Brit Hume, Angle's report transitioned from a discussion of bipartisan efforts on class-action lawsuit reform to Social Security by asserting that bipartisan action on the former issue could generate momentum "as the president tries to build support for a list of his legislative goals, including Social Security reform." Then came a quotation from Senator George Voinovich (R-OH) suggesting that Social Security is in crisis:
VOINOVICH [clip]: I go to meetings and I ask people that raise their hands, "How many of you think you're going up with Social Security benefits?" And the majority of them, the overwhelming majority of them say, "I don't think I'm going to get it."
But instead of balancing this clip with the perspective of a Democrat -- or even an independent economist -- who might have pointed out that Social Security will be solvent with no changes at all until 2042, according to the Social Security board of trustees' report, and until 2052, according to the Congressional Budget Office, as Media Matters for America has noted, Angle proceeded to quote from another Republican source, a recently leaked White House memo:
ANGLE: And a leaked memo from a top White House aide to Republicans comes to the same conclusion, saying Social Security is "heading for an iceberg. The notion that younger workers will receive anything like the benefits they have been promised," it said, "is fiction, unless significant reforms are undertaken."
Next, Angle noted that "reformers point to a short list of options to repair the system's finances." But the only option that Angle mentioned was a reported Republican proposal to cut benefits by indexing the initial benefit formula to prices rather than wages. Angle helpfully provided the apparently compelling rationale for this proposal:
ANGLE: The memo said the White House would take a very close look at the way benefits are calculated, because under current practice, benefits are determined by wage inflation, not consumer [i.e., price] inflation. And future retirees are scheduled to get 40 percent more than current recipients, even after inflation, even though the system doesn't have the money to pay for them.
But Angle offered no comparably specific statistics to explain why many Democrats oppose severe benefit cuts. He might have mentioned, for example, that moving from wage indexing to price indexing means a 25.7 percent benefit cut for the typical Social Security recipient in 2042, according to a Washington Post article. He could also have reported that "Social Security provides at least half of total income for a majority of beneficiaries," and the poorest 20 percent of Americans rely on Social Security for 82 percent of their income on average, according to the Social Security Administration. But Angle noted only that "some Democrats are resistant" to cutting benefits and included a brief quotation from Representative Jim Moran (D-VA):
ANGLE: But some Democrats are resistant.
MORAN: [clip] We've always suggested that you don't want to cut benefits. Half of the people on Social Security would be living in poverty if it wasn't for the Social Security program.
Finally, Angle suggested that many Democrats may choose to oppose "whatever the White House proposes" not because of policy-based objections, but simply because a successful reform effort would be a landmark victory for the conservative movement:
ANGLE: The White House memo also said that reforming Social Security is one of the most important conservative undertakings of modern times. Of course, for some Democrats, that is one more reason to be against whatever the White House proposes -- Brit.