New York Times Again Sees a Looming 'Era of Government Austerity' in a $3,500 Billion Budget

Over the weekend the New York Times painted the $85 billion in budget cuts that will start kicking in Friday – known in Washington-speak as sequestration -- in dramatic terms, falsely heralding a new age of "government austerity" (since when?) and passing along stories of budget-cut fear-mongering from the state level.

Saturday's lead from Michael Cooper painted a White House-friendly horror story: "Fear of U.S. Cuts Grows In States Where Aid Flows – Recovery Seen At Risk – Wide Impact Looms on Jobs, Tax Revenue, and Schools."

States are increasingly alarmed that they could become collateral damage in Washington’s latest fiscal battle, fearing that the impasse could saddle them with across-the-board spending cuts that threaten to slow their fragile recoveries or thrust them back into recession.

Some states, like Maryland and Virginia, are vulnerable because their economies are heavily dependent on federal workers, federal contracts and military spending, which will face steep reductions if Congress allows the automatic cuts, known as sequestration, to begin next Friday. Others, including Illinois and South Dakota, are at risk because of their reliance on the types of federal grants that are scheduled to be cut. And many states simply fear that a heavy dose of federal austerity could weaken their economies, costing them jobs and much-needed tax revenue.

So as state officials begin to draw up their budgets for next year, some say that the biggest risk they see is not the weak housing market or the troubled European economy but the federal government. While the threat of big federal cuts to states has become something of a semiannual occurrence in recent years, state officials said in interviews that they fear that this time the federal government might not be crying wolf -- and their hopes are dimming that a deal will be struck in Washington in time to avert the cuts.

The impact would be widespread as the cuts ripple across the nation over the next year.

After the laundry list of warnings from governors of various states, the Times includes this brief "oh by the way" caveat:

Even with the automatic cuts, the analysis found, states are still expected to get more federal aid over all this year than they did last year, because of growth in some of the biggest programs that are exempt from the cuts, including Medicaid.

Also on Saturday's front page was Jonathan Weisman and Michael Shear's "White House Uses Air Delays As Budget Prod – Predicting Travel Woes in Bid to Avert Cuts." It certainly worked on the Times; on Friday reporter Matthew Wald, channeling politicized warnings from the Federal Aviation Administration. warned the impact of the cuts on travel delays could be worse than a hurricane. (A government agency warning of future inefficiency on its own behalf could easily become a self-fulfilling prophecy.)

The White House on Friday warned of potentially severe disruptions in air travel if across-the-board spending cuts take effect in less than a week as President Obama intensified pressure on Congressional Republicans to entertain spending reductions and tax increases to avoid furloughing federal workers and limiting services.

On Sunday Weisman and economics reporter Annie Lowrey falsely heralded a new era of federal government "austerity" while passing along dire predictions from federal agencies in "Hard Budget Realities As Agencies Prepare To Detail Deductions."

After focusing on a hypothetical person whose weekly unemployment check would be 10% lighter, the Times made its claim of "government austerity." (For the record, the 2013 federal budget is roughly $3,500 billion.)

Much of the government will be immune, only magnifying the cuts for the rest. If they are not reversed, federal spending at the discretion of Congress will eventually fall to a new five-decade low. Cuts of even larger size are scheduled to take effect every year over the next 10, signaling an era of government austerity....A comprehensive deficit-reduction deal, which is currently moribund but is still both Congress and the White House’s stated goal, might mitigate the impact by including fast-growing programs like Medicare and Medicaid in the cuts. But belt-tightening, for now, appears to be the new normal.

And no liberal newspaper worth its ink can ignore the politically potent closing of national parks to swing readers, as Leslie MacMillian did in a Friday post for the paper's Green blog, "National Parks on a Precipice."