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Daily Howler: Bush has a fake, phony figure to pimp. Gail Collins deftly debunks it
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STRAIGHT OUTTA ETHER! Bush has a fake, phony figure to pimp. Gail Collins deftly debunks it: // link // print // previous // next //

STRAIGHT OUTTA ETHER: Is anything on earth so phony and fake that Bush won’t say it to the press? In the recent campaign, Bush promised to cut the federal deficit in half by the year 2009. In Sunday’s Times, Edmund Andrews explained how the great man plans to do it:
ANDREWS (1/2/05): To make Mr. Bush's goal easier to reach, administration officials have decided to measure their progress against a $521 billion deficit they predicted last February rather than last year's actual shortfall of $413 billion.

By starting with the outdated projection, Mr. Bush can say he has already reduced the shortfall by about $100 billion and claim victory if the deficit falls to just $260 billion.

Incredible, isn’t it? Rather than cut the actual deficit in half, Bush will tackle an imaginary deficit—a projected deficit, one that never existed, one he pulled straight outta his keister. We truly do live in fictitious times—when a sitting president can even dream of making such an absurd presentation. But don’t worry! The press corps has glugged down gallons of budget cant from the Bush Admin over the years. Result? You live at a time when a White House has made a clear decision—that there is nothing so phony and fake that the press will refuse to accept it.

Which brings us back to yesterday’s editorial in the New York Times. To her vast credit, Gail Collins debunked one of the many fake spin-points your White House is pimping on Social Security. You need to understand them all. So let’s review what Collins said:

NEW YORK TIMES EDITORIAL (1/3/05): If you've lent even one ear to the administration's recent comments on Social Security, you have no doubt heard President Bush and his aides asserting that a $10 trillion shortfall threatens the retirement system —and the economy itself. That $10 trillion hole is the basis of the president's claim last month that ''the [Social Security] crisis is now.”...

Well, the $10 trillion figure is the closest you can get to pulling a number out of the air. Make that the ether.

In fact, you’re likely to hear Bush’s shills use a larger figure: $10.4 trillion. On the December 5 This Week, for example, Senate majority leader Bill Frist cited the figure again and again (transcript below). As the Times notes, that frightening figure has been pulled from thin air—and Frist was eager to mislead you with it. Indeede, you’re going to hear that figure pimped in the future, and it’s important that you know how to explain it. Where did that frightening figure come from? Collins explained in her ed:
NEW YORK TIMES EDITORIAL (continuing directly): Starting last year, as the groundwork was being set for the emerging debate, the Social Security trustees took the liberty of projecting the system's solvency over infinity, rather than sticking to the traditional 75-year time horizon. That world-without-end assumption generates the scary $10 trillion estimate, and with it, Mr. Bush's putative rationale for dismantling Social Security in favor of a system centered on private savings accounts.
In short, that frightening, $10 trillion shortfall is what you get if you go to infinity, not to the ether—if you abandon the traditional 75-year horizon used in such calculations. This produces a scary-sounding number, but one which is essentially worthless. “The American Academy of Actuaries, the profession's premier trade association, objected to the change,” Collins wrote. “In a letter to the trustees, the actuaries wrote that infinite projections provide ‘little if any useful information about the program's long-range finances and indeed are likely to mislead any [nonexpert] into believing that the program is in far worse financial condition than is actually indicated.’”

But that is exactly why men like Frist go on TV and recite this number; Frist is trying to “mislead non-experts” (that is, the voters), scaring them into thinking that a horrible funding shortfall exists. But how large is the projected shortfall if we stick to the normal, lengthy framework? It’s important that you know these facts when you hear Bush’s Scare Figure bruited:

NEW YORK TIMES EDITORIAL: Over a 75-year time frame, Social Security's shortfall is estimated by the Congressional Budget Office at $2 trillion and by the Social Security trustees at $3.7 trillion, a manageable sliver of the economy in each case.
How large is the traditional, 75-year shortfall? “A silver of the economy,” Collins says. Paul Krugman explains in more detail in his important column this morning: “The long-term cost of the Bush tax cuts is five times the budget office's estimate of Social Security's deficit over the next 75 years.” In his December 7 column, Krugman offered a similar stat. According to a CBO study, “extending the life of the trust fund into the 22nd century, with no change in benefits, would require additional revenues equal to...only about one-quarter of the revenue lost each year because of President Bush's tax cuts.”

So be sure you understand when you hear them pimping that $10.4 trillion. Over the next 75 years, the projected shortfall is much less than that, and the projected shortfall can be made whole for a quarter the cost of Bush’s tax cuts. As they’ve repeatedly shown in the past, the Bush Admin will do and say anything when it comes to budget matters, and the press corps has always allowed them to engage in their faking. Regarding that scary $10.4 trillion, Collins and Krugman have offered you facts. It’s important that you understand them.

FRIST, DO NO HARM: Bill Frist was eager to “mislead non-experts” when he went on ABC’s This Week. Over and over, the phony man just kept reciting that phony $10.4 trillion figure. He never explained where the figure came from—nor did George Stephanopoulos ever ask. Here are some groaning excerpts:

FRIST (12/5/04): Well, what we have is a promise in the future that we have made and that promise is $10.4 trillion, it's called unfunded liability but it's basically something we have promised the next generation and we can't deliver it the way it is structured now so what do you do? One way and I agree with Senator Grassley, we have to have a comprehensive look and solicit ideas from the outside, listen, debate. Talk about. A lot of people making suggestions.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So you agree, benefit cuts and tax increases on the table for the long term?

FRIST: Well, well, let me say this, $10.4 trillion out there. We may need to make an investment up front and this came down to your question of a transition if you do the personal accounts, which I'm a great advocate for because it increases savings, increase in investment, that creates jobs. It grows the economy. If we do that, we may have to make an investment here in the next five years, ten years or 15 years. Now, by making that investment up front it may be a trillion dollars.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But where do you get the money for the investment? That's what I'm trying to pin down.

FRIST: The same way if you had a mortgage for your home and you wanted to begin to prepay that mortgage. You may have to borrow it. But what it does, that $10.4 trillion liability promise will be cut way down.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Let me just stop you right there. If you borrowed, isn't that like taking your Visa card to prepay your mortgage? You're borrowing more money.

FRIST: It is, but your mortgage goes from 10.4 trillion down to eight, seven, six, two. That liability to the future because you investing now and, yes, it's like taking bad medicine, it doesn't taste good but you prevent that disease in the future so it's prevention. It's an investment for the future.

The noble Christian man’s orders were clear—keep reciting that misleading figure. But Stephanopoulos never questioned the number, and later, the noble Frist pimped it again. “We have over-promised,” the great Christian man piously said. “Everybody agrees we've over-promised to the tune of, as I said, $10.4 trillion.” But of course, everybody doesn’t agree with that scary, misleading figure, although Frist’s host didn’t seem to know that. But so what? Frist—presented with a mark—just kept misleading the voters.

Yes, Frist was eager to “mislead non-experts” when he played the pimp on This Week. But then, it’s something the “press corps” has allowed Bush to do on every sort of budget matter—a fact which explains why he’s willing to pimp that ludicrous plan for “halving the deficit.” Yesterday, Collins laid out important facts. But how strange—that these facts show up in a Times editorial, not in the paper’s news pages.

BUSH GETS SULLIED: Congratulations to Andrew Sullivan for trashing the Bush Admin’s fake, phony folkways. “How can anyone take this administration's fiscal intentions seriously when it engages in this kind of flim-flam?” Sully asks. You know what to do—just click here, then scroll to “BUSH AND MORAL VALUES.”

TOMORROW (AND TOMORROW): More facts you must know.