Budget Deal? What Budget Deal?

There's nothing reporters like more than bipartisan agreement on new sky-high levels of federal spending. Nothing, of course, except even higher spending. Perhaps this explains the deafening silence coming from the press as both political parties prepare to break their word to the American people on the budget.

Last summer, when both parties in the nation's capital agreed to a budget deal which spends record sums of your money, network journalists had found paradise.

They described the deal with remarkably similar language as that used by the politicians they were covering. NBC's Tom Brokaw called the agreement "a breakthrough deal on the federal budget. The best demonstration of bipartisan spirit since the Gulf War in the capital." CBS correspondent Paula Zahn also thought it was "a breakthrough deal," while at ABC both John Cochran and Kevin Newman said the agreement was "historic," with Newman mentioning the same "bipartisan good will" Brokaw had spotted. And Dan Rather was nothing if not consistent. The night before the deal was finalized he called it "a possible legislative landmark." The next night he told viewers that Congress and the White House had "reached a landmark deal today."

So how are network reporters responding now that many in both Congress and the White House are trying to find ways to get out of this supposedly historic, landmark, breakthrough deal? With outrage? Or at least with a sense of journalistic responsibility to report the attempted deal-breaking? No, their response to this betrayal has been more like a collective yawn.The Cato Institute's Stephen Moore vividly describes the GOP's abandonment of their budget deal in the March 9 National Review. "Just nine months after approval of the much-celebrated budget deal of 1997, Congress is already plotting to bust the expenditure caps for 1999," reports Moore. Speaker Newt Gingrich - who last summer told conservatives they should support the budget deal because of the How many network news reports noted Senator Domenici's complaint? None. The networks are instead busy telling us there's a federal budget surplus on the horizon, as if the fact that the government is also spending money at record levels isn't relevant news. Massive new spending, by legislators from both parties who can't fathom the notion that this money isn't theirs, will undermine last year's budget deal. In Washington D.C., the media verdict is in: So what? But let anyone suggest that the public deserves a tax cut - better yet, suggest also that this tax cut will help expand the economy and generate greater federal revenues - and those same pundits will scream bloody murder. And they'll reference a budget deal forged in 1997.

What games they are all playing.