Monday, February 28, 2011

The Usual, Even On MSNBC


It's a fair amount of dialogue to go through, but Chris Matthews' discussion on Monday's Hardball (transcript here) with former U.S. Representative Susan Molinari (R-NY) and Politico's Jeanne Cummings has just about everything that's wrong with the media's treatment of entitlements. Matthews leads off:

While it appears there may be a deal coming to keep the United States government funded for another two weeks and open for business, avoiding a shutdown, the question remains whether Congress or the president will do something to curb the big, growing cost of programs like Social Security and Medicare. Or is it all talk and no action, for the obvious reason?

Susan Molinari is a former New York congresswoman. And Jeanne Cummings is assistant manager editor at Politico.

Jeanne, just in strict analytical terms, watching these folks, I wonder if anybody who wants to get elected again in Congress is willing to put their hand up and say: "I want to cut the benefits going to people on Social Security. I want to cut the health benefits. You`re not going to get dialysis for more than three months, X-many months. You`re not going to get the artificial limb reworked after seven years. You`re not going to get the following"?

When it comes to the realities of cutting these programs, will any politician actually do it?

JEANNE CUMMINGS, ASSISTANT MANAGING EDITOR, POLITICO.COM: I don`t think we`re going to see that any time soon, and without a great deal of change here in Washington, Chris, for the reasons that you make clear.

It`s politically very, very difficult. You have down in Florida Representative Adam (sic) West, who has actually talked -- he`s a Republican, a freshman -- and he`s talked more than many of them about some of the changes that would have to come to those programs.

And the Democrats are immediately targeting him. And that -- those are the very issues they`re using against him.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

CUMMINGS: So, it`s going to take a sea change.

MATTHEWS: All you have to do -- Paula Hawkins, remember -- I`m sorry.

But, remember, Paula Hawkins was a senator from down there, never did anything wrong, except she did what they told her to do. She voted to -- she came out in public support of cutting for the COLAs for Social Security. Got blown away. Jeremiah Denton.

I think it`s the only issue, Susan -- you were in the House -- that you can be beaten for, just one vote. Vote to cut Social Security, vote to cut Medicare benefits to people, what happens to you?

SUSAN MOLINARI (R), FORMER U.S. CONGRESSWOMAN: Well, except nobody`s talking about cutting benefits of the recipients right now. What they`re talking about is changing programs in the future. And I think...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: But, in the end, doesn`t that do the same thing?

MOLINARI: I think the Republicans are going to take that chance.

Look, John Boehner has just said it. The speaker went out there and said it. Eric Cantor has said it. Paul Ryan has said, when he unveils his budget in a few weeks, there`s going to be entitlement change. Governor Christie has stood up and has staked his claim. Mitch Daniels has.

I mean, you`re starting to see -- and, look, it`s a different...

MATTHEWS: It`s easy for Christie. He`s not doing this. He`s telling them to do it.

(CROSSTALK)

MOLINARI: It`s a different world now, though.

MATTHEWS: OK.

(CROSSTALK)

MOLINARI: This is a different world.

MATTHEWS: OK, Susan Molinari, I respect your judgment. Here`s the latest "USA Today" poll, Gallup poll -- 61 percent of Americans oppose cutting Medicare spends -- 64 percent oppose cutting Social Security spending. These are two-thirds votes.

MOLINARI: I think the American people told the Republicans when they elected in the majority that they wanted this deficit to come under control and that they wanted a little sanity and some validity.

MATTHEWS: I agree with all that.

MOLINARI: We`re starting to see this with the C.R. We`re starting to see this with what the new Republican budget is going to do. I think you`re going to be surprised by the leadership that the Republican Party is going to show.

And I think the American people are going to present them with reelection at the polls for showing that kind of leadership. I think what the last election about -- was leadership.

MATTHEWS: Every time, Susan -- or, Jeanne, every time we poll people -- and I did this back in, I think, 1971, working for a senator from Utah.

You poll people and you ask them what they would like to see government cut, they say foreign aid and general government expenses. They want to see more money on education. They don`t want any cuts in Social Security or anything like it.

If you ask them, do they want to see government waste cut, they don`t want real cuts. For example, I was just out doing something for Alzheimer`s this past week out in Las Vegas, trying to raise awareness for the big group out there that is working on research. Imagine telling people who have an Alzheimer`s victim in their house and they`re a caregiver -- oh by the way, we`re cutting spending on research that you`re going to face another 20 or 30 years of Alzheimer`s hell in this country because we can`t solve the problem. Do people really want those kinds of cuts?

CUMMINGS: Well, I think in addition to those challenges that you`ve just outlined, there is an additional one for this Congress and the White House if they really want to do anything. And that is that there is a sizable majority in the 60 percents in a recent poll by Kaiser who thinks you can fix Medicare and Social Security by just cutting the other parts of the budget. So, the public, while they may be coming around, they aren`t ready for this debate yet. There`s a lot of education that would have to take place before Washington could move in a serious and fundamental way.

What struck me with the deficit commission in December was they made recommendations that would change Social Security, for instance.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

CUMMINGS: These -- the effect of -- the effect of those changes wouldn`t take place, wouldn`t affect anybody until 2050, OK? That`s a long time from now.

MATTHEWS: I know.

CUMMINGS: And, yet, they were criticized roundly on both sides of the aisle. And nobody`s been willing to touch that one. So, until they deal, they bring the public with them, I think this will remain, they`ve got to educate the public. But until they do that, I think it`s going to be a very tough issue.

MATTHEWS: So, you`re 26 years old and this will affect you. I`m going the math. It`s 39 years from now.

MOLINARI: Twenty-six-year-olds, 52-year-olds don`t rely on Social Security for our benefits. I mean, we`ve all grown up with the reality we don`t think it`s going to be there for them. That is why I think -- you know, look, the line is being drawn. The abdication of leadership by President Obama in following in anything that his deficit commission --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Who on the other side is doing it?

MOLINARI: Three week, Paul Ryan, and you just heard John Boehner say they`re going to make some changes in terms of entitlement reforms. When they come forth with their budget when they`re done cleaning --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Do you think that`s a smart move on their part?

MOLINARI: I think it is a smart move for this country. And I think the voters understand it now. I think it is a different time than when Paula Hawkins and others --

MATTHEWS: Jeanne, do you think the Republicans are going to be the first ones to move on this? Not the Democrats?

CUMMINGS: I will be -- I think they are going to do something. They are promised to do it and there will be something in their budget. Whether that is a serious proposal or not, I`m skeptical of. Only because we`ve been in this town for a long time and there are a lot of proposals that are supposedly serious proposals but they really aren`t.

So, we`ll see if they will be first out and it will be a serious proposal.

MATTHEWS: I will be very impressed -- negatively or positively, I`ll be impressed if your party, the Republican Party, actually says, raise the retirement age, reduce the benefit levels, something that a person can see when they watch a program like this and read the paper, they can get it. They are cutting the benefits.

MOLINARI: This is the party that`s at least proposed the spending cuts for C.R. that the Democrat Party was suppose to pass last year and moving toward September. So, let`s give them credit for what they`ve done so far.

MATTHEWS: You`ve just done that. That`s sufficient.

Anyway, thank you, Susan Molinari. It`s great to have you on because you are a good partisan. But I`m waiting for the Republicans or anybody -- because I watched this under Reagan. And he was as popular as you could get in this country, and he got burnt on this thing

While it appears there may be a deal coming to keep the United States government funded for another two weeks and open for business, avoiding a shutdown, the question remains whether Congress or the president will do something to curb the big, growing cost of programs like Social Security and Medicare. Or is it all talk and no action, for the obvious reason?

Susan Molinari is a former New York congresswoman. And Jeanne Cummings is assistant manager editor at Politico.

Jeanne, just in strict analytical terms, watching these folks, I wonder if anybody who wants to get elected again in Congress is willing to put their hand up and say: "I want to cut the benefits going to people on Social Security. I want to cut the health benefits. You`re not going to get dialysis for more than three months, X-many months. You`re not going to get the artificial limb reworked after seven years. You`re not going to get the following"?

When it comes to the realities of cutting these programs, will any politician actually do it?

JEANNE CUMMINGS, ASSISTANT MANAGING EDITOR, POLITICO.COM: I don`t think we`re going to see that any time soon, and without a great deal of change here in Washington, Chris, for the reasons that you make clear.

It`s politically very, very difficult. You have down in Florida Representative Adam (sic) West, who has actually talked -- he`s a Republican, a freshman -- and he`s talked more than many of them about some of the changes that would have to come to those programs.

And the Democrats are immediately targeting him. And that -- those are the very issues they`re using against him.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

CUMMINGS: So, it`s going to take a sea change.

MATTHEWS: All you have to do -- Paula Hawkins, remember -- I`m sorry.

But, remember, Paula Hawkins was a senator from down there, never did anything wrong, except she did what they told her to do. She voted to -- she came out in public support of cutting for the COLAs for Social Security. Got blown away. Jeremiah Denton.

I think it`s the only issue, Susan -- you were in the House -- that you can be beaten for, just one vote. Vote to cut Social Security, vote to cut Medicare benefits to people, what happens to you?

SUSAN MOLINARI (R), FORMER U.S. CONGRESSWOMAN: Well, except nobody`s talking about cutting benefits of the recipients right now. What they`re talking about is changing programs in the future. And I think...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: But, in the end, doesn`t that do the same thing?

MOLINARI: I think the Republicans are going to take that chance.

Look, John Boehner has just said it. The speaker went out there and said it. Eric Cantor has said it. Paul Ryan has said, when he unveils his budget in a few weeks, there`s going to be entitlement change. Governor Christie has stood up and has staked his claim. Mitch Daniels has.

I mean, you`re starting to see -- and, look, it`s a different...

MATTHEWS: It`s easy for Christie. He`s not doing this. He`s telling them to do it.

(CROSSTALK)

MOLINARI: It`s a different world now, though.

MATTHEWS: OK.

(CROSSTALK)

MOLINARI: This is a different world.

MATTHEWS: OK, Susan Molinari, I respect your judgment. Here`s the latest "USA Today" poll, Gallup poll -- 61 percent of Americans oppose cutting Medicare spends -- 64 percent oppose cutting Social Security spending. These are two-thirds votes.

MOLINARI: I think the American people told the Republicans when they elected in the majority that they wanted this deficit to come under control and that they wanted a little sanity and some validity.

MATTHEWS: I agree with all that.

MOLINARI: We`re starting to see this with the C.R. We`re starting to see this with what the new Republican budget is going to do. I think you`re going to be surprised by the leadership that the Republican Party is going to show.

And I think the American people are going to present them with reelection at the polls for showing that kind of leadership. I think what the last election about -- was leadership.

MATTHEWS: Every time, Susan -- or, Jeanne, every time we poll people -- and I did this back in, I think, 1971, working for a senator from Utah.

You poll people and you ask them what they would like to see government cut, they say foreign aid and general government expenses. They want to see more money on education. They don`t want any cuts in Social Security or anything like it.

If you ask them, do they want to see government waste cut, they don`t want real cuts. For example, I was just out doing something for Alzheimer`s this past week out in Las Vegas, trying to raise awareness for the big group out there that is working on research. Imagine telling people who have an Alzheimer`s victim in their house and they`re a caregiver -- oh by the way, we`re cutting spending on research that you`re going to face another 20 or 30 years of Alzheimer`s hell in this country because we can`t solve the problem. Do people really want those kinds of cuts?

CUMMINGS: Well, I think in addition to those challenges that you`ve just outlined, there is an additional one for this Congress and the White House if they really want to do anything. And that is that there is a sizable majority in the 60 percents in a recent poll by Kaiser who thinks you can fix Medicare and Social Security by just cutting the other parts of the budget. So, the public, while they may be coming around, they aren`t ready for this debate yet. There`s a lot of education that would have to take place before Washington could move in a serious and fundamental way.

What struck me with the deficit commission in December was they made recommendations that would change Social Security, for instance.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

CUMMINGS: These -- the effect of -- the effect of those changes wouldn`t take place, wouldn`t affect anybody until 2050, OK? That`s a long time from now.

MATTHEWS: I know.

CUMMINGS: And, yet, they were criticized roundly on both sides of the aisle. And nobody`s been willing to touch that one. So, until they deal, they bring the public with them, I think this will remain, they`ve got to educate the public. But until they do that, I think it`s going to be a very tough issue.

MATTHEWS: So, you`re 26 years old and this will affect you. I`m going the math. It`s 39 years from now.

MOLINARI: Twenty-six-year-olds, 52-year-olds don`t rely on Social Security for our benefits. I mean, we`ve all grown up with the reality we don`t think it`s going to be there for them. That is why I think -- you know, look, the line is being drawn. The abdication of leadership by President Obama in following in anything that his deficit commission --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Who on the other side is doing it?

MOLINARI: Three week, Paul Ryan, and you just heard John Boehner say they`re going to make some changes in terms of entitlement reforms. When they come forth with their budget when they`re done cleaning --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Do you think that`s a smart move on their part?

MOLINARI: I think it is a smart move for this country. And I think the voters understand it now. I think it is a different time than when Paula Hawkins and others --

MATTHEWS: Jeanne, do you think the Republicans are going to be the first ones to move on this? Not the Democrats?

CUMMINGS: I will be -- I think they are going to do something. They are promised to do it and there will be something in their budget. Whether that is a serious proposal or not, I`m skeptical of. Only because we`ve been in this town for a long time and there are a lot of proposals that are supposedly serious proposals but they really aren`t.

So, we`ll see if they will be first out and it will be a serious proposal.

MATTHEWS: I will be very impressed -- negatively or positively, I`ll be impressed if your party, the Republican Party, actually says, raise the retirement age, reduce the benefit levels, something that a person can see when they watch a program like this and read the paper, they can get it. They are cutting the benefits.

MOLINARI: This is the party that`s at least proposed the spending cuts for C.R. that the Democrat Party was suppose to pass last year and moving toward September. So, let`s give them credit for what they`ve done so far.

MATTHEWS: You`ve just done that. That`s sufficient.


Molinari claims "I think the American people told the Republicans when they elected in the majority that they wanted this deficit to come under control." In these days of Speaker, John "so be it" Boehner, it must be difficult for Matthews to remember that the GOP campaigned as much on unemployment as on the deficit. And after Molinari added that the American people voted for the GOP because "they wanted a little sanity and some validity," Chris Matthews (on your "liberal" cable channel) responded "I agree with all that." "That" would have included Molinari conflating Social Security with the deficit, two completely unrelated topics. Even if Matthews is confused, it's incomprehensible that a former congresswoman would be.

But Molinari wasn't done. She went on to claim "Twenty-six-year-olds, 52-year-olds don`t rely on Social Security for our benefits. I mean, we`ve all grown up with the reality we don`t think it`s going to be there for them." That led Digby to blog "What do you mean "we", rich woman?"

Actually, Social Security won't be there only if disinformation specialists like Molinari have their way. If, as Ezra Klein in August demonstrated with the chart (from Center for Budget and Policy Priorities) below, if the tax rate for incomes above $250,000/$200,000 (family, individual) had been extended and the money applied to the Social Security, there would have been no shortfall for the next 75 years.





But if Molinari was partisan (understandable and legitimate) and thoroughly dishonest (expected and illegitimate), Jeanne Cummings betrayed an elitism characteristic of the Third Estate on this issue. Only the wise people, the "serious" people understand. She explains "So, the public, while they may be coming around, they aren`t ready for this debate yet. There`s a lot of education that would have to take place before Washington could move in a serious and fundamental way." A moment later, determined to make sure the audience understood that she isn't part of the rabble, Cummings added "And nobody`s been willing to touch that one. So, until they deal, they bring the public with them, I think this will remain, they`ve got to educate the public. But until they do that, I think it`s going to be a very tough issue."

Matthews, far less smug than his guests, at least acknowledged that the public likes Social Security and stated that he'd be "very impressed, negatively or positively," if the Republicans "raise the retirement age, reduce the benefit levels."

But of course they won't admit they are reducing benefits, for the same reason Molinari recognized "nobody`s talking about cutting benefits of the recipients right now" and young adults have, she exulted, "grown up with the reality" that "we don't think it's going to be there." The aggressive disinformation campaign won't work with anyone currently at, or near, the eligibility age. For all others, it will come packaged as "reform." And all through the mainstream media, it will be applauded.



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