NBC Uniquely Wonders if Obama Is Using 'Scare Tactics' to Hype Social Security Threat

Of the three morning shows on Wednesday, only NBC's Today speculated that Barack Obama might be using "scare tactics" with his dire warning that, barring a deal on raising the debt limit, Social Security checks in August might no be mailed out. Good Morning America's George Stephanopoulos simply asserted that the "debt crisis in Washington is getting very scary."

Stephanopoulos uncritically repeated, "And President Obama for the first time yesterday saying that Social Security recipients in August may not receive their checks."

In contrast, NBC's Matt Lauer, skeptically asked, "Scare tactic? President Obama warns millions of Americans Social Security checks may not go out next month if lawmakers fail to reach a deficit deal."

Later, co-host Ann Curry also wondered if the President was unnecessarily frightening people. Talking to Chris Matthews, she pressed, "Meantime, the President made a lot of Americans nervous, Chris, when he talked about Social Security checks maybe not going out. Did he go too far here?"

On GMA, a graphic hyped, "Debt Showdown: Obama's Warning: Social Security Checks in Danger." At another point in the segment, Stephanopoulos again repeated the President's "warning."

There was no discussion on ABC over whether this threat is overblown. For instance, a chart put together by Goldman Sachs shows that the government's Social Security responsibilities for August fall below the line of its cash intake.

Over on CBS's Early Show, the morning program replayed an extended version of Scott Peley's Tuesday interview with Obama. Co-host Chris Wragge described the President's prediction this way: "Republicans push forward a short-term solution to the deadlocked debt limit talks as President Obama issues an urgent call for an agreement."

Co-host Erica Hill added, "...It's about to get personal for many Americans. That's because the President tells Scott Pelley billions of dollars in benefits- we're talking Social Security checks, veterans benefits, disability checks- may not go out next month if a deal is not reached."

A transcript of Today's segment on the debt ceiling can be found below:

MATT LAUER: Scare tactic? President Obama warns millions of Americans Social Security checks may not go out next month if lawmakers fail to reach a deficit deal. As a top Republican offers up a controversial last choice option to end the stalemate.


ANN CURRY: And boy, the gloves are off in Washington and the mood could be even more tense today because the President and top congressional leaders are going to be going back to the negotiating table yet again.

LAUER: That's right. Republicans were not at all happy with the President's comment on Tuesday. And now Senator Mitch McConnell has offered that last chance option. We're going to tell you what he is offering straight ahead.

CURRY: Let's begin with the clock ticking down on lawmakers to reach a deal on the debt ceiling. NBC's Kristen Welker is at the White House for us this morning. Hey Kristen, good morning.

KRISTEN WELKER: Hey, good morning to you, Ann. Well, sources close to the talks tell me Tuesday's meeting was the most productive yet. But with no deal in sight, the political gloves are starting to come off.

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: No Social Security Checks? Both Sides Turn Up Heat in Debt Ceiling Standoff]

After days and days of talks on a debt ceiling deal, President Obama warned what would happen if America defaults on its loans on August 2nd. Some 70 million Americans who rely on disability, veterans and Social Security payments, may not get their checks.

BARACK 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.

WELKER: House Speaker John Boehner disagreed.

JOHN BOEHNER: There's going to be money available on August the 3rd. And I think it's way too early to be making some types of veiled threats like that.

WELKER: This as Republicans were heating up their own rhetoric and getting personal.

BOEHNER: This is the President's plan. This debt limit increase is his problem.

MITCH MCCONNELL: As long as this president is in the oval office, a real solution is probably unattainable.

WELKER: In a new twist, Senator Mitch McConnell proposed a last choice option, which would allow the President to increase the federal debt limit in increments through 2012, and essentially place the responsibility of raising the debt limit squarely on the President's shoulders. The plan does not guarantee the spending cuts which Republicans have been insisting on.

MCCONNELL: This is not my first choice.

WELKER: Causing one conservative blogger to call McConnell Pontius Pilate and another tweeting, 'McConnell needs to find his spine.' But lawmakers on both sides say they are considering the plan.

Now, President Obama is still trying to push for the largest deal possible somewhere in the neighborhood of $4 trillion in deficit reductions over the next decade. But a lot of lawmakers here just say they just don't think a deal of that size is going to be possible. Ann.

CURRY: Alright, Kristen Welker, thank you so much.

— Scott Whitlock is the senior news analyst for the Media Research Center. Click here to follow him on Twitter.