Fear-Mongering Schieffer Claims Social Security Checks Can't Go Out Without Debt Resolution

On three occasions between July 22 and July 26, 2011, CBS's Bob Schieffer carried water for President Obama when he echoed the Democrat's inaccurate claim about Social Security: "Millions of Americans...may not get their next [Social Security] check if the debt ceiling crisis is not resolved." In reality, there is enough federal revenues and authorized expenditures to pay for the program [audio clips available here].

Schieffer gave a preview of the CBS Evening News nine minutes into the 8 am Eastern hour of the July 22, 2011 Early Show with his dire warning about Social Security:

SCHIEFFER: Every month, millions of Americans depend on Social Security to support their families and make ends meet. But now, they may not get their next check, if the debt ceiling crisis is not resolved.

More than ten hours later, the CBS News anchor repeated his hype about the federal program as he introduced correspondent Michelle Miller's story, which was filled to the brim with potential sob stories if the false prediction came to be. Miller included a clip of the President's own:

SCHIEFFER: The late developments in Washington mean that a deal between Congress and the White House is now very much in doubt on the debt limit, and if the government does default, the people who rely on Social Security may end up being the first to get hurt. Here's Michelle Miller.

MILLER (voice-over): ...For 26 years, Mattie Jones worked as a nurse's assistance in south Florida....Now 69, Jones completely depends on her monthly Social Security check.

JONES: $955.

MILLER (off-camera): Every month?

JONES: Every month.

MILLER: And you live entirely off of that?


MILLER (voice-over): Jones's next check and rent bill are both due August 3, the same day a debt ceiling deadlock could stop the Treasury from seconding out checks.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I cannot guarantee that those checks go out on August 3 if we haven't resolved this issue.

JONES: It's scary, you know? Because you don't know what's going to happen.

MILLER: Nearly 55 million people received Social Security benefits in June. That monthly check was the primary source of income for almost nine million recipients ages 65 and older. Many, like Mattie, also depend on government-funded services, like this meal plan at her local senior center. Now, her most important daily meal could be on the chopping block.

But seniors aren't the only ones at risk. More than four million beneficiaries are children like ten-year-old Anthony Hines....Anthony has autism. His mother, Claudia Pachon, is a single parent. She had to quit her full-time bank job and take part-time work, without benefits, to find time to care for her son....She gets $400 a month from Social Security to help make up the difference.

PACHON: For me, losing this $400 a month is a lot. I mean, I can't- it's not an option for me.

MILLER: Government money also covers the cost of Anthony's special needs school.

PACHON: Everyday, you got to struggle, and I just pray that everything is going to get better, not worse.

MILLER: On August 3, Pachon, Jones, and 27 million other Americans could find the system they paid into does not have the money to pay them back.

Fear mongering notwithstanding, there is actually enough money to pay the checks to those who depend on Social Security. On July 8, The Weekly Standard cited a study from the Bipartisan Study Center which "projects there will be $172 billion in federal revenues in August and $307 billion in authorized expenditures. That means there's enough money to pay for, say, interest on the debt ($29 billion), Social Security ($49.2 billion), Medicare and Medicaid ($50 billion), active duty troop pay ($2.9 billion), veterans affairs programs ($2.9 billion)."

As NewsBusters's Noel Sheppard noted, even left-wing hero Senator Bernie Sanders acknowledged on Ed Schultz's MSNBC show on July 13 that "you can figure out a way...[to] make sure that seniors and disabled vets get their checks....[W]e can pay Social Security."

Despite this, Schieffer took to the airwaves one more time at the beginning of the July 26 edition of CBS Evening News to trumpet that it was "one week and counting to August 2, the day the President says the government will run out of money and, among other things, will have to stop sending out Social Security checks."

—Matthew Balan is a news analyst at the Media Research Center. You can follow him on Twitter here.