Which Way Is It, NY Times? Will Social Programs Suffer 'Cutback' or Just 'Smaller Increase'?

The deck of headlines over Friday's lead New York Times story by White House reporter Jackie Calmes illustrated how hard it will be for conservatives to actually reduce the national debt: "Social Programs Facing A Cutback In Obama Budget -- Smaller Increase Seen -- Show of Compromise Is Aimed at Reviving Deficit Deal."

The Times actually contradicted itself within its headline, announcing Obama's proposed budget "cutback," yet admitting in the next line that Obama's proposal -- incorporating a revision in how inflation is calculated that's known as "chained C.P.I." (for Consumer Price Index) -- would actually just mean a "smaller increase" in federal spending year to year. It would reduce the growth of annual spending in programs like Social Security, but not actually reduce the amount spent.

The paper has traditionally misled in its budgetary lingo, taking the liberal line that any slowdown in spending increases is actually a "cut" or an actual spending reduction.

Calmes' actual story was pretty straightforward (for Calmes, anyway):

President Obama next week will take the political risk of formally proposing cuts to Social Security and Medicare in his annual budget in an effort to demonstrate his willingness to compromise with Republicans and revive prospects for a long-term deficit-reduction deal, administration officials say.

In a significant shift in fiscal strategy, Mr. Obama on Wednesday will send a budget plan to Capitol Hill that departs from the usual presidential wish list that Republicans typically declare dead on arrival. Instead it will embody the final compromise offer that he made to Speaker John A. Boehner late last year, before Mr. Boehner abandoned negotiations in opposition to the president’s demand for higher taxes from wealthy individuals and some corporations.


Besides the tax increases that most Republicans continue to oppose, Mr. Obama’s budget will propose a new inflation formula that would have the effect of reducing cost-of-living payments for Social Security benefits, though with financial protections for low-income and very old beneficiaries, administration officials said. The idea, known as chained C.P.I., has infuriated some Democrats and advocacy groups to Mr. Obama’s left, and they have already mobilized in opposition.