The Washington Post

Gingrich scares seniors on Social Security in GOP debate

Politicians slam other politicians who they say are scaring seniors about Social Security. And then they go about scaring seniors about Social Security. At last night’s Tea Party debate in Florida, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich was really good at it when he dredged up a beloved, but wrong, talking point from the debt-ceiling drama to hammer away at President Obama.

President Obama twice said recently he couldn’t guarantee delivering the checks to Social Security recipients. Now, why should young people who are 16 to 25 years old have politicians have the power for the rest of their life to threaten to take away their Social Security?

In that answer Gingrich wrapped up a truth in a crowd-pleasing lie.

What Gingrich said about Obama is true. The president did say on more than one occasion during the fight to raise the debt ceiling that he couldn’t guarantee Social Security checks, most notably to CBS Evening News anchor Scott Pelley. But the lie is that this was some capricious threat by Obama. Would that were true.

Pelley: Can you tell the folks at home that no matter what happens, the Social Security checks are gonna go out on August the third? There are about $20 billion worth of Social Security checks that have to go out the day after the government is supposedly gonna go into default?

Mr. Obama: Well, this is not just a matter of Social Security checks. These are veterans' checks, these are folks on disability, and their checks. There are about 70 million checks that go out each month.

Pelley: Can you guarantee, as president, those checks will go out on August the third?

Mr. Obama: I cannot guarantee that those checks go out on August 3rd if we haven't resolved this issue. Because there may simply not be the money in the coffers to do it.

To refresh your memory, here’s why Obama couldn’t make any guarantees before the debt ceiling was raised.

Had there been no agreement, the Treasury would have had $32 billion in expenses, including $23 billion in Social Security payments. But it would have had only $12 billion to pay them. The chart above shows the ugly trade-offs that would have had to have been made had there been no debt-ceiling deal. And the problems would have been compounded the longer an impasse stretched on.

Considering that Gingrich is going nowhere in his quest for the Republican nomination, I suppose I shouldn’t get worked up over his scaring seniors from his Tiffany-plated fantasy land. But when a misleading lie is tossed out there unchallenged, especially when it comes to Social Security, I feel duty-bound to expose it.

Jonathan Capehart is a member of the Post editorial board and writes about politics and social issues for the PostPartisan blog.


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