CNN Incorrectly Hypes Seniors' Fears of Social Security Default

Even Socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) believes the government can still pay out social security checks if the debt ceiling is not raised, but CNN highlighted disgruntled seniors Thursday who fear the opposite. CNN correspondent Sandra Endo reported live from a senior center and emphasized that the citizens were "scared," "worried," and "angry" about possibly not receiving their Social Security and Medicare payments.

"A lot of opinions, strong emotions, coming out of the seniors we've spoken to," Endo said. "There's certainly a buzz here at this senior center, and a lot of people are just frightened because they rely on their Social Security and also Medicare and Medicaid, of course, for their livelihood."

However, as the Weekly Standard reported recently, the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) believes that if the debt ceiling is not raised on time, U.S. has enough revenue in August to pay off entitlement obligations as well as interest on the debt, among other things. Even Socialist Senator Bernie Sanders told MSNBC's Ed Schultz July 13, "I think, in fact, we can pay Social Security."

A BPC study projected that, although failing to raise the debt ceiling "would mean deep and immediate cuts" in spending, enough revenue would exist to pay certain obligations. The government would have to prioritize which payments to meet.

The study estimated that U.S. will have $172 billion in revenue in August, with $307 billion in obligations. However, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid total about $100 billion in all, and interest on the debt $29 billion. Thus, according to the BPC, the U.S. could meet those obligations and still have room to pay for other important obligations, like paying soldiers on active duty.

However, CNN hyped the fears of the seniors and even quoted President Obama's controversial statement that Social Security payments could be in limbo if the debt ceiling is not raised.

"So certainly they are watching, they're waiting, all the seniors here. It's abuzz here at this center," Endo concluded. "People grabbing me, wanting to say what they think about what's going on in Washington because they are angry. They feel like they are the ones being held hostage by all these political games."

A transcript of the segment, which aired on July 28 at 2:04 p.m. EDT, is as follows:

RANDI KAYE: Let me bring in Sandra Endo now. She is in Pasadena, California, at a senior center where a whole lot of folks have a whole lot at stake. And they're all watching what's going on in Washington. Sandra, the seniors that you've met, are they alarmed so far by what they've seen happening or really not happening in Washington?

SANDRA ENDO, correspondent: Oh, absolutely, Randi. A lot of opinions, strong emotions, coming out of the seniors we've spoken to. A lot of people are scared, they're worried, they're angry about what's going on in Washington. There's certainly a buzz here at this senior center, and a lot of people are just frightened because they rely on their Social Security and also Medicare and Medicaid, of course, for their livelihood. And let's talk to Bobby right now. You were talking to me earlier, saying what's going on in Washington is ridiculous. How angry are you?

BOBBIE BROOKS, concerned about cuts to entitlements: Very, very angry. It's because I would not be able to live the lifestyle I live if I did not have my Social Security, even though I work part-time, 36 hours a week. But I can't live on either one of them.

ENDO: So you would be out on the street?

BROOKS: Probably worse than that, because I don't think – the way I see some people on the street, I don't think I could live that kind of life, you know? Because I would just – I wouldn't be able to function. So I hate that that day is staring us in the face.

ENDO: A big concern here. Anastasia, also, you've been watching this political fight play out in Washington. What do you think of all the back-and-forth bickering?

ANASTASIA STEWART, concerned about cuts to entitlements: I think I would like to see all of them have to trade places with us, and let them try and live on what we don't have and what they're trying to even cut more of. Social Security has not even contributed to the deficit, and yet they are more than happy to take it and use it wherever they like.

ENDO: And all the back-and-forth, the fighting?

STEWART: The political games that they play. (Laughs) It's a bad role model for our kids, I must say. Truth has become obsolete, and that's very sad. And yet we claim to be a country that tells the truth and that's democratic, and yet we're not doing a real good job of that ourselves.

ENDO: All right. Thank you so much for sharing your opinions. Obviously, a very tough emotional time for seniors as they wait, as the whole country waits, Randi, really, for some kind of deal, some kind of compromise, something, answers, to come out of Washington. Randi?

KAYE: So it sounds like folks there are certainly worried about the long term and any changes that might happen for entitlements – Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid.

ENDO: Oh, absolutely. They are relying on these checks to come. And even President Obama, when he spoke, he was saying that these Social Security checks are in limbo. If the country is broke, they won't have enough money to send out these checks. So certainly they are watching, they're waiting, all the seniors here. It's abuzz here at this center. People grabbing me, wanting to say what they think about what's going on in Washington because they are angry. They feel like they are the ones being held hostage by all these political games.

KAYE: Sandra Endo at the senior center there in Pasadena. Interesting to hear some fresh voices there, folks who really have a fight under way here.

Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro was a News Analyst for the Media Research Center's News Analysis Division from 2010 through early 2014