Saving Social Security

One issue on which Barack Obama and John McCain differ is Social Security. McCain would like to replace Social Security as we currently understand it with a very different kind of retirement program that wouldn't offer security to retirees and would have no progressive impact on the income distribution. Because this plan is unpopular, he would like to confuse people about his support for privatization of Social Security and he would also like to secure bipartisan cover for privatizing it. Obama, by contrast, wants to keep Social Security very much as it is, and if deficits projected for the future emerge he's interested in altering the payroll tax cap in order to secure more revenue.

Or as the headline writers put it on the front page of The Washington Post "Candidates Diverge on How to Save Social Security". Because in headlineland, saving a program and destroying a program under pretext of saving it are just two different ways of saving it. Or as Perry Bacon, Jr. writes in the above-headlined story:

Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain are both proposing dramatic changes to Social Security, taking on the financially fragile "third rail of American politics" that Congress and recent presidents have been unable to repair.

This is a great lead except for the fact that Obama is not proposing dramatic changes to Social Security. Well, there's also the fact that the projected deficits for Social Security are smaller and more manageable than those projected for the other entitlement programs (Medicare and Medicaid) and that the non-entitlement portion of the budget is running a huge deficit right now. Under the circumstances, Social Security would seem to be the least financial fragile aspect of the federal budget. And one more thing -- to say "that Congress and recent presidents have been unable to repair" Social Security implies that recent presidents and Congresses have been trying to repair it when, in fact, George W. Bush's Social Security proposals were, like John McCain's, aimed at phasing the program out.

I think I'm afraid to read past the lede of that particular story.