Media Label Spending Cuts ‘Draconian’ and ‘Folly,’ As Debt Grows by Over $4 Trillion

In three years since the Senate last passed a budget, attempts to curtail spending have been criticized by media.

It was nearly three years ago that the U.S. Senate last passed a budget, despite the need for a clear plan to tackle debt and spending issues. The anniversary of that last budget is April 29, 2009. Since that time, the media have repeated the liberal theme that proposals to cut or cap spending are “draconian,” even when the cuts were only 4.6 percent of the year’s budget deficit.

From the editorial pages of The New York Times and The Washington Post, to the broadcast networks news programs, the word “draconian” was a favorite descriptor throughout Obama’s term. One columnist even called a GOP proposal a “betrayal of the powerless.” “Draconian” has been used to describe Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., his budget proposals, the impact of presidential candidates’ proposals, and in discussions of compromise spending bills.

NBC’s David Gregory called Ryan “more draconian” than his “fellow Republicans” in 2011. President Obama echoed the same to attack Ryan’s 2013 budget proposal in an April 4, 2012, speech to the press.

“Proponents of this budget will tell us we have to make all these draconian cuts because our deficit is so large; this is an existential crisis, we have to think about future generations, so on and so on,” Obama said before pushing the old liberal theme that tax cuts carry a “cost.” “And that argument might have a shred of credibility were it not for their proposal to also spend $4.6 trillion over the next decade on lower tax rates.”

Obama took another dig at the Ryan plan calling it “thinly veiled social darwinism.” Fine talk coming from a president whose latest $3.6 trillion budget proposal was unanimously defeated in the House of Representatives.

A year earlier, Obama’s budget proposal (which included roughly $1.5 trillion in deficit spending) failed to garner a single vote from the Democrat-controlled Senate. But it did get support from the liberal media. On Feb. 15, 2011, a Times editorial about Obama’s budget called the $3.7 trillion monstrosity “encouraging” and claimed “It makes a number of tough choices to cut the deficit by a projected $1.1 trillion over 10 years...” The Times also berated GOP alternatives saying, “The Republican cuts would eviscerate vital government functions while not having any lasting impact on the deficit.”

Liberal Washington Post columnist Ezra Klein attacked Ryan’s 2013 budget on April 3, 2012. He condemned it and Ryan saying: “The cuts to education, to food stamps, to transportation infrastructure and to pretty much everything else besides defense are draconian.” He cited the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities founder Bob Greenstein who claimed it would “decimate state budgets.” Klein dramatically claimed that “It is hard to see his budget as anything less than a betrayal of the powerless.”

It hasn’t mattered what spending cuts were proposed, they’ve been lambasted by the left-wing in politics and the media. And forget about a balanced budget amendment. That was denounced as “folly” and “draconian” by the Times editorial board, and “a bad idea” by The Washington Post.

In 2011, Rep. Norman Dicks, D-Wa., told NBC viewers that $60 billion in spending cuts were: “a meat ax approach on a - on top of a meat ax approach.” While in a separate story the same day, NBC anchor Lester Holt called them “pretty drastic cuts.”

In The New York Times opinion section, the same bill was labeled a “draconian budget” full of “cuts that would prove devastating to the poor and working class.”

But compared to the size of our national debt, or even the federal budget deficit (the shortfall for the current year), $60 billion is a drop in a bucket. The national debt stands just shy of $15.7 trillion as of April 26, 2012. The Federal budget deficit was at $1.3 trillion, so that $60 billion cut is a mere 4.6 percent of that massive figure.

According to The Heritage Foundation, $4.1 trillion of that debt has been added between April 29, 2009 (the last time the Senate passed a budget) and Jan. 20, 2012 (1,000 days after the last budget passed).

When Cuts Aren’t Really Cuts

The U.S. Senate has failed to do its duty by using continuing resolutions to keep the government running, instead of passing a budget. The Heritage Foundation called it “egregious dereliction of duty on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-NV) watch.”

“The budget process forces Congress to set priorities to protect the people’s money and put it to its appropriate use. Instead, the Democrat-controlled Senate has abdicated its responsibility. The result? The deficit is soaring, causing a looming tax burden and injecting uncertainty into the economy …” Mike Brownfield wrote for Heritage’s Foundry blog.

Certainly, the Senate needs to do its job and pass a real budget that addresses the fiscal trouble the country is in. The fact is that the longer the government takes to address mounting debt and out of control spending, the more severe the solutions will have to be.

The problem with liberal media coverage of the budget issue is that viewers and readers rarely get a sense of the big picture. In August of 2011, when the media reacted to the debt ceiling deal they made it sound like Congress took a “machete” to the budget. NBC fretted that those spending cuts could “harm the economy.”

The truth was, according to Chris Edwards of Cato, that the deal “doesn’t cut federal spending at all.” The cuts were an illusion, because of the use of baseline budgeting. Baseline budgeting is budgeting that assumes growth of spending, so cuts are often cuts from the projected growth -- not actual spending cuts.

At that time the Business and Media Institute analyzed coverage of the debt ceiling deal on broadcast new programs. Only 2 of the 43 stories/interviews/news briefs admitted that the debt would still climb -- by $12 trillion in 10 years under the plan, according to Cato’s Edwards.

On Aug. 2, 2011, ABC “World News” aired one of the only stories that pointed that out. That night Diane Sawyer asked: “How much did that compromise bill really shrink the country’s overspending?”

"World News" aired a chart on screen that showed the projected national debt to double in 10 years - from 2011-2021 ($14.29 trillion to $28.8 trillion). The debt compromise signed into law by Obama would only lower the 2021 projection by $2.5 trillion over those 10 years to $26.3 trillion. That's still an 81 percent increase.

After seeing that “World News” story, liberal comedian and news critic Jon Stewart summarized the debt ceiling fight in terms only he could on Aug. 3 shouting, “That's what this whole thing was about? This whole brouhaha, according to Diane Sawyer's parallelogram of disappointment managed to remove one paper-thin chocolate shaving from our Dairy Queen gut-buster sundae of debt?”