Yesterday's Washington Post contained an op-ed by Republican Senator Jeff Sessions in which made several dubious claims, most notably that he and his fellow Republicans -- who have supported costly wars and massive tax cuts -- are serious about deficit reduction. Dubious claims, even those undermined by the writer's own recent history, are commonly accepted as the price of granting op-ed space to politicians. Explicit falsehoods, however, cannot be justified on such grounds, and the Washington Post should promptly correct this one:
As we enter the annual budget season, Washington will need to consider the kind of change this country has not accomplished since 1997 - when a strong Republican Congress passed a budget that converted soaring deficits into surpluses.
Prior to the passage of the budget in question, deficits were not "soaring." They were decreasing, due in part to Bill Clinton's 1993 budget, passed in Congress without a single Republican vote. Here's a chart, based on Congressional Budget Office data:
As you can see, deficits were clearly not "soaring" in 1997. They were declining rapidly, which is the opposite of "soaring." The Washington Post owes its readers a correction.
From the January 25 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom:
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From the January 25 broadcast of Fox News' Fox & Friends:
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On Fox News' America Live, Fox Business host Stuart Varney falsely claimed that pensions are the "biggest reason" states are facing budget shortfalls and that pensions "are one of the biggest expenses [states] have." In fact, short-term budgetary challenges facing states are the result of the financial crisis, not pensions, and current pension obligations account for just 3.8 percent of the average state's yearly expenditures.
From the January 21 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:
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From the January 21 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:
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From the January 19 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:
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In December, Town Hall columnist Tony Blankley made a variety of false claims about the mid-1990s, including the false claim that Bill Clinton twice vetoed welfare reform prior to the 1994 mid-term elections. That didn't happen, as Blankley should know: Blankley was Newt Gingrich's press secretary at the time.
Today, Blankley has another column about his experience in the mid-1990s, and he again doesn't know what he's talking about.
First, Blankley again gets Clinton's position on welfare reform wrong:
The GOP in 1995 had three major policy objectives: 1) to balance the budget in seven years, 2) to reform welfare and 3) to pass our Contract with America 10-point plan. President Clinton opposed all three. With Clinton eventually going along, we in fact balanced the budget ahead of schedule, Clinton signed our welfare reform after first vetoing it twice, and about two-thirds of the contract was enacted into law and signed by President Clinton.
Clinton didn't oppose welfare reform. He supported it, going back to his campaign for president -- long before most Americans had ever heard of Newt Gingrich. And he didn't sign the GOP's welfare reform after first vetoing it twice -- he signed a compromise welfare reform bill after forcing the GOP to make what he viewed as sufficient changes by vetoing their first two bills. Finally, Blankley's suggestion that Clinton didn't support budget-balancing is more than a little disingenuous in light of the fact that in 1993, Clinton signed the largest deficit reduction plan in history, which passed Congress without a single Republican vote.
Next, there's Blankley's description of the 1995 government shutdown:
What the GOP House (and Senate) did in 1995 was pass very short-term funding bills (for just a few days) while we continued to debate the president regarding the larger issue of moving toward a balanced budget. When President Clinton refused to sign the bills, the government -- except for essential services -- "shut down."
In Blankley's telling, the GOP passed continuing resolutions in good faith to keep the government running during negotiations, but Clinton refused to sign them. That isn't really what happened. In fact, the GOP attached other provisions to the funding bills (and debt-ceiling increase), like an increase in Medicare premiums and restrictions on death-row appeals.
Finally, Blankley says the GOP lost the political battle over the government shutdown in part because "the issue of deficit spending and public debt was of much less concern to the public than it is now" and that Republicans should therefore be undeterred by the lessons of 1995-96 in pursuing deficit reduction at all costs.
Nonsense. In the early to mid 1990s, deficits got a lot of attention from the media and politicians -- has Blankley forgotten Ross Perot? -- and polls suggested that deficits were a top concern:
In December 1994, the Pew Research Center found that 65 percent of Americans named reducing the deficit a top priority, compared to 64 percent who said improving the job situation was a top priority. Compare that to January 2010, when Pew found that 81 percent of Americans consider improving the job situation a top priority, and 60 percent said the same of the deficit. (Pew's 2011 report on national priorities isn't out yet, but other recent polling has consistently shown that jobs are a higher priority than deficits.)
And on September 3, 1995, as the budget battle was heating up, the Washington Post quoted one top Republican saying that deficit reduction was "what we were elected to do." That Republican's name? Tony Blankley.
So when Blankley claims there is more public concern about the deficit now than in 1995-96, he appears to have things completely backwards.
The GOP's problem in 1995-96 wasn't that the public was less concerned then with deficits than it is now. It was that then, as now, the public cared about other things more, and rejected the Republicans efforts to gut Medicare and other government programs.
At the rate Blankley is going, it's only a matter of time before he urges House Speaker John Boehner to lash out at the seating arrangements on Air Force One, claiming that doing so worked out well for Gingrich.
In a New York Times "news analysis" about the debate over health care reform, reporters David Herszenhorn and Robert Pear quote five politicians and one nonpartisan team of budget experts. In doing so, Herszenhorn and Pear included a statement about the credibility of only one of the six sources -- and it wasn't the nonpartisan team of budget experts. It was Wisconsin Republican Paul Ryan.
The Times reporters identified President Obama, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, House Committee On Small Business chair Sam Graves and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz only by name and title; the Congressional Budget Office was described simply as "nonpartisan." But Ryan … for some reason, Herszenhorn and Pear decided to tout Ryan's credibility:
As floor debate on the repeal measure opened on Tuesday, Representative Paul Ryan, Republican of Wisconsin and chairman of the Budget Committee, who is a respected voice on fiscal issues, declared that the health care law would "accelerate our country's path toward bankruptcy."
Respected by whom? And, more importantly, why? Herszenhorn and Pear didn't say.
Ryan voted for then-President Bush's tax cuts in 2001, then argued for extending them last year. Those tax cuts have had rather significant fiscal consequences. Is Ryan deserving of this praise because, though he fights for tax cuts that lead to massive deficits, he acknowledges (but doesn't do anything about) the fact that not all tax cuts pay for themselves? Ryan supported the Iraq war and voted for Bush's Medicare prescription program, too, both of which contributed significantly to deficits. Ryan produced a budget proposal that would take about 50 years to balance the budget -- except that it wouldn't do so even then, as Ryan told CBO to base its assessment of the budget on the assumption that tax revenues would remain the same, even though the budget included costly tax cuts. Ryan continues to support deficit-increasing policies. And when asked what spending he'd cut specifically, Ryan can't tell you the answer.
So why do Herszenhorn and Pear think Ryan -- and Ryan alone -- is worthy of being declared a "respected voice on fiscal issues"? Is it just because Ryan wants to end Medicare as we know it and privatize Social Security?
Is that what the New York Times thinks justifies singling Ryan out for praise -- his support for budget-busting tax cuts and wars, along with proposals to dismantle the social safety net?
The New York Times should consider the possibility that part of the reason why the nation faces large deficits is that news organizations like the New York Times praise the fiscal responsibility of politicians who support massive increases in the deficit.
Today, on Fox News' America's Newsroom co-host Bill Hemmer aired a video clip of Dick Cheney's assertion that Barack Obama will be a one-term president because he has been "expanding the size of government, expanding the deficit." Hemmer then declared that Cheney has been against big government since the 70s, adding, "In Dick Cheney's view, bigger government is bad government."
Hemmer seems to have forgotten the last decade.
Yesterday, FoxNews.com published an article outlining the recent public spat between National Public Radio and Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO) over his recently reintroduced bill to defund NPR. After playing stenographer to both Rep. Lamborn and NPR, the article concludes:
NPR says only 1 percent to 3 percent of its $166 million budget is funded by taxpayer dollars. But a recent report by the Congressional Research Service found that taxpayers fund at least 4 percent of NPR's budget, while an analyst at the conservative American Thinker estimated it was closer to 25 percent.
So, we have a report from the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service being placed on equal footing with an unnamed "analyst" at a conservative blog.
The "analyst" in question is Mark Browning, who probably does not fit most readers' definition of that term: he teaches English at Johnson County Community College. After he published his piece at American Thinker and a similar op-ed in the New York Post, Browning appeared on Fox & Friends to discuss NPR. The chyron during that appearance billed him as an English professor, and made no mention of any other experience which might qualify him to accurately estimate the funding sources of NPR's budget. To uncritically bill him as an "analyst" implies a level of credibility that simply does not exist, given the available details about his background.
Further, the comparison between these two completely leaves out a number of assumptions Browning makes in his so-called "estimate." Browning contends that federal funds trickle into NPR's national budget in several ways, among them grants from publicly funded organizations, tax-funded university dollars, and deductions for donations. Browning tries to estimate the sum of those funds, and in doing so runs fast and reckless with the numbers. From Browning's article:
At first glance, this distribution of funds seems to confirm that public radio's support does not come in large amounts from the direct allocation of tax moneys. After all, 5.6% is not a gigantic portion of the budget, is it? But let's look more closely. That 10.1% that comes from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting is 99% provided by -- you guessed it -- the federal government. Those university funds, whenever they are provided by a public university, represent taxpayer-provided dollars. We can safely assert that three out of four university-supported stations are publicly funded, which means that more than 10% (three-quarters of that 13.6%) is taken from the taxpayer's pockets.
99 percent of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting's budget comes from the federal government? That would come as news to the authors of the Fox article that cites Browning's estimate, seeing as how they report that only 13 percent of CPB's budget is federally funded:
NPR issued a statement this week blasting Lamborn's two bills, one which would defund the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which receives 13 percent of its funding from taxpayers and awards NPR some grant money. The other would eliminate federal funding just for NPR. Local public radio stations are more dependent on federal funding than NPR is.
Who would have thought we'd see the day when Fox News published an estimate relying on data debunked in its own reporting? Browning continues:
Those university funds, whenever they are provided by a public university, represent taxpayer-provided dollars. We can safely assert that three out of four university-supported stations are publicly funded, which means that more than 10% (three-quarters of that 13.6%) is taken from the taxpayer's pockets.
Uh-huh. That might make sense, if one could credibly argue that public university budgets were entirely comprised of tax dollars. Apparently, despite working for an institution of higher learning, Browning is unfamiliar with the concept of tuition, or donations from graduates. More from Browning:
Obviously the support by individuals, businesses, and foundations does not constitute taxpayer funding, right? Not so fast. These donations are tax-deductible; thus, they are subsidized by the government. Granted, not every gift is actually reflected on an individual or business tax return, and not all of those that are itemized wind up offsetting high marginal tax rates. Still, it is reasonable to believe that on average, these gifts result in deductions at the 25% tax bracket. Since these three categories add up to roughly 64% of station funds, we can reasonably argue that 16% of that money (64% x 0.25) is subsidized by the tax code.
If one considers tax-deductible donations to be a federal subsidy, then all manner of organizations receive so-called federal funding: The Heritage Foundation, Save the Children, The American Civil Liberties Union, and (Gasp!) Media Matters for America. Representatives of conservative organizations would likely balk at the suggestion that their acceptance of tax-deductible donations constitutes federal funding... because that's ridiculous.
If FoxNews.com is going to put an American Thinker post on the same level as a CRS report, they should at least explain how that post arrived at its absurdly higher number.
So to review the entire process chronologically: (1) Browning writes flimsy, hole-ridden estimate of NPR's funding. (2) Fox & Friends, a Fox News opinion program, brings Browning on to discuss NPR. (3) FoxNews.com cites Browning's work, as that of an unnamed analyst, on par with that of the Congressional Research Service, in supposedly straight news reporting. In other words, this is one more time Fox has used opinions from its commentary programming to manufacture so-called straight news.
From the January 14 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:
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During a segment decrying Washington's inability to solve the nation's problems, Fox News' Glenn Beck praised Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) for being "actually consistent" on the deficit. "Paul Ryan is one of the good guys, I think," Beck added.
Like Mr Conrad, Mr Ryan was a member of the Bowles-Simpson commission. Unlike Mr Conrad, he voted against its plan to stabilise the debt despite calling it "serious and credible". He opposed it because it left Mr Obama's health-care reform intact, and because it relied too much on tax increases, even though these were smaller than the plan's spending cuts. The opposition by Mr Ryan and his two fellow House Republicans more or less guaranteed the plan would die.
A few days later Mr Ryan congratulated Mr Obama for acting "responsibly" in capitulating to Republicans and agreeing to an $800 billion-plus package that extends all of George Bush's tax cuts and implements new temporary stimulus composed overwhelmingly of tax cuts. Whatever its merits as stimulus, its complete absence of any linkage to long-term deficit reduction is antithetical to the principals behind the Fiscy.
But the most important reason to question Mr Ryan's deficit-hawk credentials was his support for certain changes to the budget process to constrain spending.
John Lott has penned a FoxNews.com op-ed criticizing as "a mess" a recent University of Maryland study which found that Fox News viewers were more likely to be misinformed than those who did not watch the network. However, the op-ed makes its case by misinforming readers on the economic stimulus, health care reform, and climate science.
A post that appeared on the front page of Red State today claimed that "Repeal of the Job-Killing Health Care Act will NOT Increase the Deficit." To defend that argument, Red State reprints Sen. Tom Coburn's distortions of a Congressional Budget Office report on H.R. 2, the proposed repeal of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA).
Let's break down the claims.
The first claim Red State reprints is:
Repeal Reduces Health Insurance Costs for Americans. "In particular, if H.R. 2 was enacted, premiums for health insurance in the individual market would be somewhat lower than under current law..."
This sounds convincing, until you read the full context of this phrase in the CBO report and find that many people would pay more for health insurance if PPACA were repealed:
In particular, if H.R. 2 was enacted, premiums for health insurance in the individual market would be somewhat lower than under current law, mostly because the average insurance policy in this market would cover a smaller share of enrollees' costs for health care and a slightly narrower range of benefits. The effects of those differences would be offset in part by other factors that would tend to raise premiums in the individual market if PPACA was repealed; for example, insurers would probably incur higher administrative costs per policy and enrollees would tend to be less healthy, leading to higher average costs for their health care. Although premiums in the individual market would be lower, on average, under H.R. 2 than under current law, many people would end up paying more for health insurance--because under current law, the majority of enrollees purchasing coverage in that market would receive subsidies via the insurance exchanges, and H.R. 2 would eliminate those subsidies. (emphases added)
The second claim is:
Repeal Reduces Federal Spending on Health Care. "Last March, CBO estimated that enacting PPACA and the relevant provisions of the Reconciliation Act would increase the "federal budgetary commitment to health care" by about $400 billion over the 2010-2019 period; CBO uses that term to describe the sum of net federal outlays for health programs and tax preferences for health care. In contrast, CBO estimated that enacting that legislation would reduce the federal budgetary commitment to health care during the decade after 2019."
This claim is simply self-refuting. CBO is saying that PPACA increased federal health care by about $400 billion over the 2010-2019 period. But even the part that Red State quoted says that PPACA will "reduce the federal budgetary commitment to health care during the decade after 2019."