WSJ, LA Times failed to note that deficits ballooned under Bolten

››› ››› JOSH KALVEN

In articles on President Bush's appointment of Joshua B. Bolten as his new chief of staff, The Wall Street Journal and Los Angeles Times ignored the rising deficits that are the defining characteristic of Bolten's three-year tenure as director of the Office of Management and Budget, the White House's budget operation.

In March 29 articles on President Bush's appointment of Joshua B. Bolten as his new chief of staff, The Wall Street Journal and Los Angeles Times ignored the rising deficits that are the defining characteristic of Bolten's three-year tenure as director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the White House's budget operation

Since Bush tapped Bolten in May 2003 to head OMB, Bolten has produced three budgets providing for the biggest deficits in the nation's history. The deficit climbed to $378 billion in 2003, ballooned to $413 billion in 2004, before receding to $318 billion in 2005. Moreover, during Bolten's tenure as OMB director, the federal debt rose by more than $1.8 trillion, as noted on the weblog Think Progress.

But in their reports on the incoming chief of staff, several news outlets overlooked Bolten's primary role in this period of fiscal recklessness. For instance, a March 29 Wall Street Journal article (subscription required) by staff writers John D. McKinnon and Jackie Calmes on Bolten's appointment noted that White House policies have "spawned deficits that constrain Mr. Bush from any major policy initiative that might re-energize his presidency," but failed to connect the budget shortfalls to Bolten in any way.

Similarly, a March 29 Los Angeles Times article by staff writer James Gerstenzang on Bolten's promotion made no mention of his record at the helm of OMB. A separate article on the appointment by Times staff writer Janet Hook mentioned that Bolten took over as director at a time of "burgeoning" deficits, but again failed to note that those deficits increased on his watch:

In 2003, Bush picked him to succeed Daniels as OMB director at a particularly difficult time. The budget deficit was burgeoning and the economy was weak, yet lawmakers were still clamoring for more federal spending on farm subsidies, on projects that benefited individual congressional districts and on other politically sacrosanct programs.

"He has one of the most thankless jobs in this town," [Budget adviser to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) G. William] Hoagland said. "It's a job that nobody's going to give you great kudos for. You're either under attack here [on Capitol Hill] or the agencies."

By contrast, a March 29 article by New York Times staff writer Elisabeth Bumiller reported that "in the last three years [Bolten] has presided over the biggest budget deficits in the history of the United States." Further, a March 28 Knight Ridder article by staff writer Steven Thomma noted the criticism of Bolten's policies as OMB director:

His tenure there has been marked by the three largest federal budget deficits in history and soaring federal spending and debt that have angered conservatives in Bush's political base.

Bolten insists that the government is on track to cut the deficit in half within five years. But Democrats said his promotion represents a continuation of the same policies that produced record deficits. "As the saying goes, you can put lipstick on a pig, but it's still a pig," said Democratic National Committee spokeswoman Karen Finney.

Several other news outlets noted that deficits had ballooned under Bolten, but appeared to insulate him from responsibility by attributing the shortfalls to external events, such as Hurricane Katrina and the wars in Aghanistan and Iraq, rather than White House policies. In a March 29 article, Washington Post staff writer Michael A. Fletcher reported that Bolten took over at OMB "at a time when spending on wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the expensive new Medicare prescription drug benefit and the recovery from Hurricane Katrina, caused deficits to spiral." A separate Post article by staff writer Peter Baker noted that Bolten "produced two consecutive budgets that cut discretionary, nonsecurity spending, but the cost of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as soaring Medicare expenses have pumped up deficits."

The Associated Press similarly deflected responsibility for the deficits. In a March 29 article, AP staff writer Terence Hunt reported:

Bolten was budget chief when the government ran its three largest deficits ever, including the record $413 billion shortfall in 2004 -- though most of that was because of the economy and years of decision-making by presidents and lawmakers.

A March 29 article by AP staff writer Deb Riechmann also blamed the deficits on these factors:

He was sworn in as budget director in June 2003. He held the post when the government ran its three largest deficits ever including the record $413 billion shortfall in 2004 though the economy and years of decision-making by presidents and lawmakers were largely to blame.

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