Media Matters stated yesterday that, based on its findings, the Washington Post editorial pages greatly favor benefit cuts over revenue increases. The group says that considerably more editorials have advocated measures involving cuts, suggesting a notable disparity between the two schools of thought. While taking the figures at face value can be misleading, it does highlight a changing orthodoxy within the Beltway on how to curb the nation’s economic woes.
Media Matters bases this opinion on a Nexis search conducted of articles published after November 30, 2010, with the terms "section (editorial) and byline (editorial) and (social security)." This includes only definitive references to the subject, rather than fleeting mentions of the term. Their search concluded that 23 articles of this type mentioned measures cutting Social Security benefits in a favorable light, while only four did the same for measures involving revenue increases through some form of tax increase.
While opinion on taxation versus cuts in spending can be left to the Media Matters analysis, which is certainly slanted in one direction itself, it does highlight the extent to which this inside-the-Beltway publication has come to favor a particular means of curbing the deficit. Techniques for curbing Social Security spending such as chained CPI (which, it has been suggested, could also raise tax revenue) have been provided considerable editorial space. While this has been the target of stinging criticism in certain economic circles, it does appear to be in line with current Beltway thinking, such as Dick Durbin’s recent proposal for a bipartisan committee on Social Security, and President Obama’s own interest in chained-CPI.
The editorial pages also tend to share a well-defined consensus when compared to public opinion on taxes and spending cuts. According to a poll conducted by the Post itself in December 2012, the majority of respondents wished to reduce spending reach deficit reduction targets, but did not wish to cut spending on any programs that they were asked about directly. Meanwhile, only 10% wished that deficit reduction via taxation would be the primary means of reducing the deficit, yet a majority wished to see a tax increase on high-earners. Inside-the-beltway thinking appears to have coalesced around an idea more readily than the public, even if political posturing makes implementation of any deal nigh on impossible.
Whether Media Matters’ strong critique of Social Security spending cuts is believable or not, there does appear to be a distinct move toward this method of deficit reduction. While not necessarily adhering to the Post’s own public polling on the matter, the editorial staff appears to reflect what is increasingly the orthodox opinion inside the Beltway. This kind of thinking is likely to be reflected in the results of current negotiations.