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CEO Evening News?

CBS turns to benefit-cutting bosses for 'fiscal cliff' commentary.

The CBS Evening News has decided the best way to inform viewers about the impending " fiscal cliff" is to let corporate CEOs affiliated with the Fix the Debt campaign recommend cuts to Social Security and Medicare.

On November 19, Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein was tapped for his apparent expertise in long-term budget forecasting. His message was simple: Benefit cuts are necessary. "The entitlements, and what people think that they're going to get, because it's not going to--they're not going to get it," he asserted.

Blankfein offered more specifics, explaining that

Social Security wasn't devised to be a system that supported you for a 30-year retirement after a 25-year career. So there will be certain things that the retirement age has to be changed, maybe some of the benefits have to be affected, maybe some of the inflation adjustments have to be revised.

It's hard to know what he's talking about when he refers to a "25-year career." Perhaps some Goldman Sachs employees retire in their early 40s, but most workers do not--and they certainly don't get Social Security retirement benefits when they do so. But Blankfein derives a straightforward moral from this dubious talking point: These benefits must be cut "because we can't afford them."

The following night, anchor Scott Pelley had a new expert: Honeywell CEO David Cote, who warned that the country's debt load meant that "we've got to do something." Why should viewers care what Cote says about any of this? Pelley explained that he "knows about fixing finances. He pulled Honeywell out of a slump."

Cote's fix is to reduce tax deductions, since "there were like 169 different ones used in, I don't know, 2008 or 2009, somewhere in there." Like the other CBS CEO, Cote also wants benefit cuts: "The big nut is going to have to be Medicare/Medicaid.… At the end of the day, you can't avoid the topic. Especially with the Baby Boomer generation retiring. It's going to literally crush the system."

On November 21, CBS Evening News was still on the case. The experts this time were, as anchor Jeff Glor put it, "two men who say they know how it should be done--if only Washington would listen." The two are Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, who co-chaired a 2011 White House debt commission. The chairs issued a report, based on drastically shrinking the federal government, that was championed by many in the press (Extra!, 1/11), but failed to be approved by the full commission. Both are co-founders of the corporate-backed "Fix the Debt" campaign.

That was followed on the broadcast by another segment with Goldman Sachs' Blankfein, who told anchor Scott Pelley:

Look, if we go over the fiscal cliff it will be very bad, hugely bad--hugely negative for the stock market, which is, you know, a source of people's wealth, people will feel poor.

Of course, many people don't consider the stock market a source of their own wealth. And 50 million Americans already "feel poor" because they are.

Blankfein added: "To me, whether the tax rate is 2 percent lower or higher or the cutoff age on some entitlement is one year less or more is secondary or tertiary to the fact that this country is focused on its future."

A cut in Social Security or healthcare probably is "tertiary" to a guy who makes millions of dollars every year. Which makes his perspective a peculiar one to highlight twice in one week.

So what accounts for the urgent need to cut benefits?

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