Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Press Complicity and the Budget

In thinking about the exchange below with Sandefur, it occured to me that there is a great example going on right now of how the press interacts with the two major parties – the new budget. In this case, both parties are trying to sell the same line, that the President’s proposed budget contains “deep spending cuts”, and the press is blissfully passing that lie along. The President’s proposed budget is 10% larger than last year, yet they announced it with a flurry of press releases talking up the strong focus on fiscal discipline and the deep cuts in many programs found in it. The White House wants to play up that angle because A) it appeals to their base and B) it appeals to the markets, both at home and abroad, that have been very concerned about mounting US debt. The Democrats, on the other hand, also want to play up this angle because it allows them to scare the public about a loss of services, and it allows them to pose as the defenders of the little guy against the cruel Republicans who want to cut their funding.

Where is the media on this one? Dutifully reporting the spin from both sides, which happens to agree, without reporting the reality that this budget is anything but fiscally responsible and that it will only increase our debt even further. The Democrats at least have never pretended to be for smaller government. Sure, they talk sometimes about “more efficent” or “leaner” government, but they generally support a large and active government. The Republicans, on the other hand, love to talk about the need for “smaller government”, yet here they are with total control of the White House and both houses of Congress and the government is growing faster than ever. Their idea of fiscal responsibility, in reality not in rhetoric, is a 2% cut in a few programs here and there with an overall increase.

The problem with the press isn’t the bias toward one side or the other of this false battle, it’s the bias toward portraying this as the full range of possibility among a wealth of other choices. The full range of mainstream opinion found in the press on the budget is whether it should be 10% bigger, with a few token cuts here and there portrayed as “drastic decreases in spending”, or whether it should be 12% larger with no cuts at all. Where are the voices for real fiscal discipline? Where are the tough questions being asked to both parties on how the continuous and ongoing debt accumulation is hurting the value of the dollar and passing on trillions of dollars in debt service to our children? Where is the follow up question from a reporter when any politician talks about how we must control the debt, yet continually votes for more and more spending? Where is the reporter who will stand up and ask those who advocate a tax cut while also increasing outlays why he thinks our kids should pay for it instead of us? They don’t exist. Because if they actually did their job of holding the government’s feet to the fire, they might lose their precious access to everyone in Congress except for maybe Ron Paul, who is a lone voice in the federal government for reducing its size and scope.


  1. #1 ~DS~
    February 22, 2005

    Ed I gotta say, at this point, the Neo-Republicans are cruel bastards. There’s no ‘playing it up’ involved anymore. They support people being whisked off with no charges and no trial to be tortured to death in Syria or Egypt. They’re cutting quite a few social programs and with each one, underprivileged people are being hurt bad. If this isn’t cruel, I don’t know what is.

  2. #2 Ed Brayton
    February 22, 2005

    They’re cutting quite a few social programs and with each one, underprivileged people are being hurt bad. If this isn’t cruel, I don’t know what is.

    I’m leaving out the whole foreign policy argument, since it’s not relevant to the budget. What programs are being cut domestically that will really hurt people significantly? I haven’t looked at some of the specific cuts in any detail, I confess, but I’m generally not terribly sympathetic to this argument simply because it’s the automatic response to any cutting of any services at all. Last year’s medicare bill, for instance, was a huge boondoggle that should never have been passed, but any attempt to cut it even slightly (let alone repeal it, which is what ought to be done) in the future will surely be met with howls of outrage using the same language. We’re hearing the same things about the measly 2.3% decrease in farm subsidies, how cruel it is to “family farmers”, when in fact very little of it goes to family farmers at all and the vast majority of it is simply a wealth transfer from taxpayers to agribusiness corporations.

  3. #3 ~DS~
    February 22, 2005

    Well for exmaple my understanding is they’re cutting Medicaid, not be confused with Medicare, (At the very least, not increasing it anywhere near the demand has gone up) which is the sole source of funding for quite a few indigent sufferes of all kinds of health problems. And some of what’s being left is going to have some of those nice, GOP and faith based string attached. I haven’t actually dug into that beast of a budget yet either, so I’m not sure of the particulars.
    I agree with you on the drug bill if that’s part of what you’re referring to. That was a political payoff to PHARMA. Hell they made it illegal for the US to bargian for lower prices for buying in bulk from international manufacturers of drugs, which alone would have cut the cost significantly. That was pretty horrible in terms of both fiscal policy and free market principles.

  4. #4 Ed Brayton
    February 22, 2005

    Well for exmaple my understanding is they’re cutting Medicaid, not be confused with Medicare, (At the very least, not increasing it anywhere near the demand has gone up) which is the sole source of funding for quite a few indigent sufferes of all kinds of health problems.

    According to the budget message from the Office of Management and Budget (I’m looking at the excel spreadsheets found here) the total federal spending on Medicaid grants to states held steady from 2004 to 2005 but are slated to go up about 10% in the 2006 proposed budget. It also shows that the total spending on Medicare and Medicaid is slated to go up significantly, well over 10% even without the new Medicare prescription drug benefit. So I’m not sure where the cuts are supposed to be. Unfortunately, it doesn’t break down the spending in more detail than that.

  5. #5 Ed Brayton
    February 22, 2005

    Here’s more detail on the proposals for Medicaid, from medical news today:

    The Bush administration also announced plans to work with governors to “chart far more sweeping changes” in Medicaid than those included in the budget proposal, which “gave a glimpse of how the administration wants to reshape Medicaid,” the Journal reports (Lueck, Wall Street Journal, 2/8). The budgets for Medicaid and SCHIP under federal law will increase by 2.2% to about $198 billion for FY 2006 (AP/Las Vegas Sun, 2/7). HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt last Tuesday said that the federal government could save $60 billion in Medicaid funds over the next 10 years through the closure of “loopholes” that allow middle-class seniors to receive benefits, the ban of “accounting gimmicks” used by states to receive more federal matching funds and the reduction of spending on prescription drugs. Leavitt said that the administration will not limit federal expenditures for mandatory Medicaid beneficiaries. However, he did not directly address whether the administration would consider a limit on federal expenditures for optional Medicaid beneficiaries and services, which account for about two-thirds of Medicaid costs (Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report [1], 2/7). The Medicaid proposal, which is the “centerpiece” of efforts by the administration to address increased health care costs, would return about $15 billion of the $60 billion saved to the Medicaid and SCHIP programs for expanded coverage, CQ Today reports. The budget proposal also includes recommendations for long-term Medicaid reforms to establish a “more sustainable cost structure.” Although the budget proposal includes few details, administration officials said that they hope to “build on the success” of SCHIP, which could indicate that the administration plans to implement a block grant system for Medicaid, CQ Today reports (Schuler [1], CQ Today, 2/7). According to the Journal, the budget proposal indicates that the administration might seek to provide states with more flexibility in Medicaid and “signals the administration may want to cap funding for certain categories of recipients” (Lueck, Wall Street Journal, 2/8).

    Tax Credit Plan
    The budget proposal also includes a plan to help decrease the number of uninsured U.S. residents through tax credits (Kellman, AP/Las Vegas Sun, 2/8). The plan seeks $142 billion over 10 years to help 12 million to 14 million uninsured residents purchase health insurance. The plan calls for $74 billion in tax credits to help some residents without employer-sponsored or government-funded health insurance pay for high-deductible health coverage and contribute to health savings accounts or obtain traditional health insurance plans (Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report [2], 2/7). The plan would provide as much as $3,000 in tax credits to help low-income individuals and families purchase health insurance (Kellerman, AP/Las Vegas Sun, 2/7).

    It looks like there are no cuts to Medicaid at all, but that in the budget message, they said they were looking to work with state governors to save $45 billion over the next 10 years by closing up some loopholes and bad accounting practices. But it has been reported in some articles as though it actually cuts medicaid by $45 billion over 10 years, which appears not to be the case at all.

  6. #6 ~DS~
    February 22, 2005

    Ed I probably over reacted to a miniscule term and phrase you wrote. Upon rereading your post, it appears that you may have meant that both sides try to generically paint the other as a bastard on the budget in the past. I may have read that to mean both sides currently occupy the same rung on the bastard ladder.
    I’ll dig into the budget when I get a chance if you really want to pursue that. I’d guess I can make a good case there for what I said about them cutting some bennies. It isn’t something I can skim through in a few hours and cough up a detailed analysis of. I’ll have to do some of it sooner or later for my job anyway.
    My point wasn’t so much about the budget, or any one issue. My point was about partisanship and phrase ‘they, both parties, are trying to paint each other as bastards’ or to that effect..
    Yes, both parties have been worthless sellouts to big money interests. Yes, historically both parties have lied their asses off about stuff that would reflect poorly on them, and exagerrated stuff that paints the opposition in a bad light, such as the bidget. Yes, 99 % of the crap that comes out of any politicians mouth is worthless rhetorical garabge. I agree with all that and I have agreed with all that for a long time. A few years ago you could have gone on at length about how both parties were equally useless assholes and corrupt sellouts, and I would have agreed with you every step of the way.
    No more. I don’t think that is the case today. Trashing the record of combat vets like McCain or Cleland with underhanded, derogatory innuendo, riding a wave of bigotry and Neo-Christain extremism to victory, lying the nation into a futile, pointless, bloody war, openly claiming it’s legal for the President to ship people off to foreign torture chambers run by barbaric sadistic throwbacks with no trial or charges, and trampling on the Constitution, just to name a few gems in Bush’s record, is not, imo, in the same league bastardwise, with anything the Democrats have done since the days of LBJ. They are thus presently, the worst, most cruel, bastards, by far. Their latest gig is to play the gay hate and unpatriotic American card on the AARP because those folks haven’t dropped to their knees and started kissing the WH’s ass on Social Security (The private account idea is imo a fine idea in principle, but we cannot afford it at this time because the deficit has been jacked up by defense spending, tax cuts, and special interests). The AARP happens to include my parents, my clients, and most everyone over age fifty I think it’s worth a shit on planet Earth. So I’m extra special sensitive right now.

    And that’s just one example today, of why they really are cruel bastards, even more than usual. Good grief, can you imagine if Clinton had had a gay, deviant, hooker, lobbing soft ball questions in WH press conferences, how freakin insane the right wingers would have gone?

    I kind of zeroed in on that tiny portion of your post because it bothered me. Maybe I was being too narrow in my focus there, but that was the gist of my motivation.

    And I’m probably oversensitive, because I was a Republican all my life until this crew got in power, so I’m not slamming them because I enjoy it. I find it revolting and a little bit depressing what they’ve done. And now I’m not a repub any longer precisely because I think they really are that bad with no exaggeration needed by the opposing side any longer. A reformed anything tends to over react, and I’m a reformed Republican.

    I once thuoght Clinton would be the biggest goddam liar I ever saw in the WH. Boy howdy did BushCo cure me of that fantasy. Clinton wa sperhaps the best most convincing liar I’ve ever seen in the WH. But magnitude wise, his lies were part-time, high-school, fibs, compared to the bloodstained whoppers these cats have layed out.

    But lest anyone think I’m just ranting here about the Neo-thugs; I’m putting my money where my mouth is. I’ve moved most of my liquid assets into euro denominated investments, and Mindy and I are seriously thinking about moving out of the country, because these bastards are, imo, on the verge of wrecking it economically. And I suggest you have some kind of hedge also my friend. Because if these bastards do manage to crash the debt market, it’s going to put a hell of a crimp in the loan biz. Even a couple of the old school, AOL, fundie creationist trolls I know, who are about as whacked on evolution as any nutcase you’ve ever met and backed BushCo to the hilt a few years ago, and who happen to have some bread stashed away, are now dissing Bush on finance and doing similar things.

    So that’s where I’m at. I’m pretty sensitive about anyone implying that the WH, and Democrats, are in the same league lie wise. Don’t know if you meant it that way or not, and I’m sorry if I took it the wrong way.

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