Jun 1 2005

Fuzzy Math

Media buy White House line on “deficit reduction”

The Washington Post headline on March 18 seemed straightforward enough: “Senate Rejects GOP Budget Cuts; House Deficit-Reduction Moves Thwarted.” The U.S. Senate, in passing its budget bill the previous afternoon, had, reported Post writer Jonathan Weisman (3/18/05), “dealt a slap to President Bush and the Republican leadership, approving a 2006 budget that would gut much of the GOP’s deficit-reduction efforts by restoring requested cuts to Medicaid, education, community development and other programs.”

There’s only one problem with this tale of the deficit-busting White House and House Republicans and the defiantly free-spending Senate: It’s not true. According to a pair of reports issued by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities a week before the Post story ran (3/9/05, 3/10/05), the original budget plans put forward by Congressional Republicans—as well as Bush’s own budget package—would actually increase future deficits over what they would be if present policies were continued. And the Senate budget, while it restored some programs cut by the House, still proposed to axe billions of dollars from existing social spending.

Unfortunately, the Post story was all too typical of coverage of this year’s epic federal budget battle. While in general the news media did a decent job of pointing out the likely effects of the most all-guns, no-butter budget since the Reagan administration—with everything from Medicaid and food stamps to college loans and Amtrak subsidies on the chopping block—reporters largely left unchallenged the central myth emanating from the White House: that all these cuts were necessary to bring down the massive federal deficit. The overall effect has been to paint a picture of the looming budget cuts as painful but perhaps necessary—and to blunt calls by advocates for the poor to restore social spending at least to current levels.

(Entire article not availible online.)