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Newspapers Saw the U.S. Budget’s Slightly Smaller Shadow

I just posted an article at the MRC’s FreeMarketProject.org about how the news media continue to see large increases in government spending by Republicans as funding "cuts":

On Groundhog Day this year, newspaper readers may have had a sense of déjà vu reading about "budget cuts" in a narrowly-passed bill which scales back increases in government spending. But instead of a Bill Murray comedy, the media presented a slasher flick. The Washington Post and The New York Times cast congressional Republicans as the axe murderers, even though a federal budget expert found the projected reductions in spending paltry compared to budgets from the Clinton administration.

While the Post’s Jonathan Weisman and the Times’s Sheryl Gay Stolberg did explain that the budget "cuts" were really reductions in the growth of social program spending, both reporters cast the federal budget trimming as full-scale bloodletting, amplifying the outrage from the legislation’s detractors.

Weisman rang alarm bells over Medicaid changes which "would impose new costs on 13 million poor recipients and end insurance coverage for 65,000 Medicaid enrollees," while Stolberg portrayed the final vote as an agonizing call for "moderate" Republicans made nervous by "intensive lobbying from advocacy groups."

The motives for lobbyists for the bill were unquestioned while both papers aired criticism of backers of the spending plan. "This bill is Exhibit A for special interest and lobbyists… at the expense of the ordinary citizen," Weisman quoted the dean of the House Democrats, Michigan’s Rep. John Dingell, in the February 2 paper. Stolberg also cited Dingell’s gripe in her February 2 story, as well as reaction from two left-leaning groups, the AARP and Americans United, both of which lobbied hard against the budget bill’s adoption. Neither reporter consulted conservative think tanks like The Heritage Foundation for reaction.

Heritage’s senior budget analyst, Brian Riedl, told the Free Market Project that "$40 billion in five-year savings are remarkably modest" when compared to budget bills from the late 1990s, which "saved an inflation-adjusted average of $308 billion over five years." In other words, the "cuts" which the media are now lamenting were seven times larger during President Bill Clinton’s second term.

Riedl was also quoted in a Los Angeles Times story on the budget’s passage.

In June 2005 The Free Market Project issued a report which documented how the media often categorize reductions in the growth of government programs as "cuts."

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Mr. Shepherd is a staff writer for the Business & Media Institute, a division of the Media Research Center.

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