Did Obama Really Tell Pelley Social Security Checks Are in Jeopardy if Debt Ceiling Isn't Raised?

As a result of Scott Pelley's interview with President Obama on the "CBS Evening News" Tuesday, the media are once again scaring seniors with the absurd notion Social Security checks won't go out in August if the debt ceiling isn't raised.

An examination of the video and transcript of the relevant sections of this exchange bring into question whether or not that's actually what the President said (video follows with transcript and commentary):

SCOTT PELLEY: Good evening. It was a striking thing, today, to hear the President of the United States say that he cannot guarantee the 27 million Social Security checks that are due to be mailed August 3rd. August 3rd is the day after the government will default on its debts if Democrats and Republicans do not agree to increase the nation's borrowing limit.

As NewsBusters previously reported, that's how Pelley began the opening segment of Tuesday's broadcast after ominously teasing, "Tonight, the President tells us Social Security checks may be in jeopardy."

But is that really what the President said? Here's what transpired minutes later:

PELLEY: Can you tell the folks at home that, no matter what happens, the Social Security checks are going to go out on August 3rd? There are about $20 billion worth of Social Security checks that have to go out the day after the government is supposedly going to go into default.

OBAMA: Well, this is not just a matter of Social Security checks. These are veterans’ checks, these are folks on disability and their checks. There are about 70 million checks that go out each month.

Notice that the President didn't answer the question about the $20 billion worth of Social Security checks. Instead, he broadened it to include veterans, the disabled, and a whole host of outlays totaling 70 million checks.

But Pelley's follow-up did not redefine the matter back to exclusively Social Security:

PELLEY: Can you guarantee, as president, that those checks will go out on August 3rd?

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.

As you can see, the follow-up question and answer were vague. As far as the President is concerned, "those checks" might mean any number of checks to go out August 3rd not just Social Security.

As such, Pelley didn't actually pin down the President concerning Social Security checks and may have misrepresented - accidentally or on purpose - what he was told.

If this is the case, the fear-mongering of seniors going on right now may be based on a misinterpretation and is therefore totally unwarranted. This could have been easily rectified if Pelley would have followed up with another question specific to Social Security.

But there's a significantly larger issue here.

Much like his colleague Bob Schieffer negligently did in his Sunday interview with Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, Pelley neglected to ask Obama the really crucial question that Americans and investors the world over would like an answer to: Are there enough tax revenues coming in during August to cover whatever costs are associated with our Treasury bonds, notes, and bills so that America doesn't default on its debt if the ceiling isn't raised?

As NewsBusters reported Thursday, the Treasury is expecting $172 billion in tax receipts next month. From what I can estimate based on Treasury data from this and previous years, it is unlikely that August interest payments will exceed $35 billion, thereby leaving $137 billion for other bills such as Social Security, Medicare, and military salaries.

Why didn't Pelley, in an exclusive interview with the President, ask him about these numbers? This is simple arithmetic, not rocket science.

If Pelley knew about the $20 billion of Social Security checks going out on August 3rd, and was willing to ask the President about it, why not ask him about the $172 billion in tax receipts Treasury is projecting to receive and work through what his priorities will be concerning which checks to pay if the debt ceiling isn't raised?

Wouldn't that have been good journalism - or is it too good for the likes of Pelley?

The reality is that with the $172 billion in tax receipts projected for August - a figure that was reported by Reuters last Thursday, mind you! - it is going to be very simple for the government to pay the majority of its bills next month including Social Security.

It is in fact a lie that seniors are at all at risk of not receiving their benefits next month, and America's media are allowing this fallacy to spread throughout the country in order to scare people into pressuring their elected officials to raise taxes.

We saw this in 1990 when President George H.W. Bush was similarly pressured to go back on his "Read my lips - No new taxes" campaign pledge in order to solve that year's "budget crisis." The difference this time is that journalists have access to all the data via the Treasury's website, which obviously wasn't the case in 1990.

If Pelley wanted to really get to the bottom of this issue, he or any of his staffers could have gotten all the recent data concerning Treasury's debt payments, as well as the figures concerning monthly receipts and expenditures, and had a truly informative discussion with the President about what's coming in and what the priorities will be if the debt ceiling isn't raised.

But that's clearly not the kind of conversation the media want to have with any White House official at this moment, including the President.

They'd rather continue to gin up fear throughout the population so they can get taxes raised along with a victory for the man they helped get into the White House.

If this is indeed the case, and there really is no risk whatsoever of a default on our debt or on Social Security payments, aren't media members like Pelley participating in a fraud?

It's one thing for politicians to lie. They do it all the time.

But isn't it the responsibility of so-called journalists to uncover the truth and disseminate it to the public?

Exactly when did it become acceptable for press members to intentionally report falsehoods in order to achieve a political outcome?

Or are they all too stupid to go to Treasury's website and get the answers that anyone with a computer anywhere in the world can now easily obtain with a couple of mouse clicks?

Whatever the answer, they're clearly not qualified for the solemn responsibility of reporting facts to the American people.

Noel Sheppard
Noel Sheppard
Noel Sheppard, Associate Editor of NewsBusters, passed away in March of 2014.