A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Sunday Replay


We found a relative dearth of misleading comments uttered by the politicians and others appearing on the Nov. 21 talk shows. We can’t be sure why, but we would note that most members of Congress seem to have fled town. Any connection? Not for us to say!

Happy Turkey Day.

Social Security: It’s Not Dead Yet

On "Fox News Sunday," Republican Gov. Rick Perry of Texas exaggerated the financial plight of the Social Security system.

Perry: And it is a Ponzi scheme. I don’t know how you would explain it any other way than what you just did. There are fewer people paying into it and our kids are never going to see any benefit from it.

Actually, even when the Social Security Trust Fund is exhausted, there will still be enough money coming in from payroll taxes to finance 78 percent of promised benefits, according to the most recent report of the system’s trustees. And that’s not expected to happen until the year 2037, under current projections. Perry would be correct to say that today’s young workers are not going to see the benefits now promised unless payroll taxes are increased. To be sure, slashing benefits by 22 percent would be a severe blow, and without tax increases, benefits would have to be reduced even further in succeeding years. But even without any tax increase, current payroll taxes could support 75 percent of promised levels even 75 years from now (see page 9 of the report). So Perry’s claim that today’s workers are "never going to see any benefit" is just a Texas tall tale.

A Guy Named Sue

Perry also made a questionable boast about his state’s legal climate:

Perry: We have low taxes, low regulatory climate, a legal system that doesn’t allow for over-suing.

What constitutes "over-suing" is a matter of opinion, of course. But Perry’s view is one with which many who advocate overhauling the civil justice system — who tend to be Republicans like the governor — don’t agree. As recently as 2008, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for Legal Reform described Texas as having one of the "worst legal climates" in the country, ranking it 41st out of the 50 states. This year Texas ranks 36th, but still wouldn’t be a defendant’s first choice of states in which to be sued. The American Tort Reform Association agrees. The Rio Grande Valley and Gulf Coast of Texas have consistently made the group’s annual list of "Judicial Hellholes." ATRA’s most recent report keeps the Texas region on a short "watch list" and says it is "still known for being skewed toward plaintiffs."

We take no position on the merits of these groups’ analyses, of course, or the views of their opponents who believe the current system is fair.

Rusty on Ratification

We heard a lot on Sunday about the stalled START treaty. President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty back in April.

The new treaty — which would provide for reductions in both countries’ nuclear warheads and allow inspectors access to examine what’s going on in each nation — now must pass muster with the Senate. But what’s that process called?

Hint: It’s not ratification.

You wouldn’t know it, of course, to listen to the politicians, pundits and press. On the Sunday shows, both the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Secretary of State used the term.

Admiral Mike Mullen, This Week: Well, certainly, what I think is that there is a sense of urgency with respect to ratifying this treaty that needs to be both recognized. Historically this has been bipartisan. This is a national security issue of great significance. And the sooner we get it done, the better.

Hillary Clinton, Fox News Sunday: In fact, what I was a heartened by and even a little surprised by at the NATO meeting was the number of people like Chancellor Merkel of Germany, like foreign ministers and prime ministers and presidents from the Baltic countries, from Central and Eastern Europe, like the editorial written by the foreign minister of Poland, people who on the ground in Europe, nearby Russia, many of whom were part of the former Soviet Union, who are saying, "Please ratify this treaty now, United States Senate."

And just about every journalist on the shows used it: NBC’s David Gregory, CNN’s Candy Crowley, CBS’ Bob Schieffer, ABC’s Christiane Amanpour.

But, as it turns out, the Senate doesn’t ratify treaties. It approves them. According to the U.S. Senate website:

Senate website: The Senate, itself, does not ratify treaties–actual ratification only takes place when the instruments of ratification are formally exchanged between the parties.

And that’s something the president, or someone designated by him, does.