Late in the evening of St. Patrick's Day, while much of America was out carousing, our hardworking U.S. senators stayed in session. It was time for the Senate to take its ﬁrst stab at addressing Social Security's long-term ﬁnancial health since President Bush began his push to restructure the program. The result wasn't pretty.
Did our devoted lawmakers vote to give the program a new infusion of revenues to meet its needs? To reduce future beneﬁts to bring them in line with expected receipts? Or to ﬁnally take some steps to solve Social Security's most daunting problem, the government's ballooning debt? No, no, and heavens no. Instead, our fearless leaders voted to increase Social Security beneﬁts, in a way carefully targeted mainly to beneﬁt the best-off retirees.
Last fall, after my group put out a study detailing widespread tax avoidance by America's largest and most proﬁtable corporations, the right-wing Heritage Foundation published a screed attacking us. It was one blatant misstatement after another. I e-mailed the author, Norbert Michel, to point out his many factual errors, but he declined to correct them. At that point, I was willing to ignore his criticism -- after all, why give publicity to patently baseless charges?
George W. Bush's Social Security proposals have come under heavy and deserved attack over the past few months. But a few key points should be made clearer. First, repeat after me: Cutting Social Security beneﬁts does not mean “saving” Social Security.
It means “cutting” Social Security. We can debate whether that's advisable, but we shouldn't let anyone misname it.
Second, Social Security's most daunting problem isn't its small projected funding shortfall. The real crisis is that the rest of the government stole the Social Security Trust Fund, spent it, and, because of Bush's tax cuts, won't be able to pay it back (or, pretty soon, do much of anything else either).
If you're unhappy with the mess George W. Bush has made of the federal corporate income tax, you'll be less happy to learn that things are even worse in the states. Last September, my group published a study showing that America's biggest and most proﬁtable corporations now shelter more than half of their U.S. proﬁts from federal income taxes. We've since taken a hard look at what corporations pay in state income taxes -- and yikes!
Of the 275 Fortune 500 corporations in our federal study, 252 disclosed their state income-tax payments. By 2003, these companies had slashed these payments to only 2.3 percent of their U.S. proﬁts. That means that two-thirds of their proﬁts escaped state taxes entirely.
Over the next few years, we're going to face monumental tax and budget decisions. President Bush wants to privatize part of Social Security, make the tax code far less progressive, borrow many more trillions of dollars, and probably slash domestic programs. It's crucial that people understand what's at stake as these issues unfold -- and that means reporters need to do better than they have in the past. So here are my New Year's resolutions for journalists who cover fiscal issues -- and what readers should demand of them.