Headquarters of the Washington Post

The Washington Post is intensifying its push for cuts to Social Security and Medicare apparently hoping for action in the lame duck Congressional session. Today a story in the news section told readers:

On entitlements, Obama has offered significant changes to Medicare, including letting the eligibility age to rise from 65 to 67.

The passive tense in this sentence might confuse readers. President Obama proposed raising the eligibility age for Medicare from 65 to 67. This is not something that happens absent his effort to stop it, like the rise of the oceans due to global warming. Obama would be the agent of this increase in the age of eligibility. Experienced reporters and editors usually would not make this sort of mistake.

The next sentence tells readers:

He has also supported applying a less generous measure of inflation to Social Security benefits.

Okay, does everyone know what this means? I suspect that only a small minority of Post readers understands that “applying a less generous measure of inflation” implies a cut in the annual cost of living adjustment of 0.3 percentage points. This cut would be cumulative so that after being retired 10 years a beneficiary would see a cut of approximately 3 percent, after 20 years the cut would 6 percent and after 30 years it would be 9 percent.

Newspapers are supposed to be trying to inform their readers. It is difficult to believe that the Post’s terminology in this sentence was its best effort at informing readers of the meaning of this proposal. It is perhaps worth noting that this proposed cut in benefits is hugely unpopular.

At another point the Post discussed the contours of the budget dispute and told readers:

one of the sticking points remains relevant: Although Democrats wanted to increase the tab [revenue increases] for taxpayers by $800 billion, Republicans wanted at least some of the money to come from economic growth, ….

A real newspaper would write the second part of this sentence:

Republicans wanted to claim at least some of the money would come from economic growth

Undoubtedly both Republicans and Democrats would be happy if the government got additional revenue as a result of more rapid economic growth. The difference is that the Republicans want to score the additional revenue as part of the budget agreement, making assumptions about the impact of lower tax rates on growth that may not be warranted by the evidence. Most Post readers probably would not understand this fact.

Dean Baker is co-director of the Center for Economy and Policy Research. He also writes a regular blog, Beat the Press, where this post originally appeared.

Photo by Daniel X. O’Neil and licensed under the Creative Commons.