Trump Tax Plan Turns Network Reporters into Deficit Hawks

Proposing tax cuts is the surest way to turn the liberal news media into deficit hawks. That’s exactly what happened in network coverage of President Donald Trump’s tax plan.

The liberal media love big spending and Big Government, until Republicans take over. It’s part of a double standard they apply on the issue of debt and deficits. A liberal like President Barack Obama can help create a $1.4 trillion deficit (and that was just the first year) and that’s no problem.

But when someone with an R after his name is in the White House, suddenly the network evening news programs warn about how policies could “balloon the deficit” or “explode” the national debt — especially when tax cuts are planned.

From April 25, the day before Trump announced his tax reform plan, through April 30, the networks evening news shows turned into deficit hawks — bringing up the problem of debt or deficits in 70 percent of the tax policy coverage (7 out of 10 stories).

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CBS Evening News anchor Scott Pelley hit the plan rollout as “high on hyperbole” and implied it was not a “serious” tax reform proposal April 26. The report cited critics of Trump’s claims the plan would boost economic growth from the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget who called it “magic beans.” CBS also noted that there were “no projections” from the administration about “what the plan would do to the nation’s deficit and debt.”

An immediate second story from chief congressional correspondent Nancy Cordes said Democrats reacted by calling it a “giveaway to the rich that will blow a huge hole in the national debt.”

The broadcast networks attacked the plan repeatedly, often slamming Trump’s proposal for being brief and lacking in details and for its impact on the debt and deficits. In half the stories they complained about “how to pay” for tax cuts, revealing an implicit attitude that the money belongs to the government rather than to the taxpayers who earned it. A minority of reports (3 of 10) also directly challenged the administration’s claims about how much the tax cuts and overall tax reforms would spur economic growth.

“What’s totally unclear, how to pay for all these tax cuts without ballooning the deficit. One bipartisan analysis estimates that Trump’s plan could cost anywhere between $3 and $7 trillion in lost revenue over 10 years,” ABC’s chief White House correspondent Jonathan Karl said on April 26.

NBC’s White House correspondent Peter Alexander said nearly the same thing: “So how much would the president’s tax plan cost? One leading nonpartisan fiscal watchdog group estimates the price tag could approach nearly $6 trillion over the next decade. And experts say there is no way this tax reform would be able to pay for itself, or even come close.”

However, Nightly News actually worried about the impact on the deficit the night before Trump rolled out the plan by turning to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget to blast it prematurely. CRFB told NBC that “without a plan to pay for it” Trump’s tax reform proposal would “explode the debt.”

An additional story which was not counted as part of the 10 stories about Trump’s tax reform plan, did mention taxes. On April 26, Evening News followed up its tax reform coverage with this anti-tax cut statement in a story about infrastructure: “Well, it’s going to take a whole lot more tax money, not less, to rebuild America’s crumbling infrastructure.”

Federal deficits were enormous under President Obama. While the first year was not entirely his doing, Obama’s $800 billion spending increase in 2009 helped drive the deficit to $1.4 trillion in 2009. Mercatus showed that the following three years also saw deficits higher than $1 trillion (1.294 trillion, 1.3 trillion and 1.087 trillion respectively). 2013-2015 deficits were lower, but still huge.

In contrast to the network treatment of Trump’s tax reform proposals, Obama policies were promoted by the networks. Republican opposition to his profligate “stimulus” bill was chastised as “obstructionist” by network reporters. Other reporters urged Republicans to be “a little bit more in the middle” and more “bipartisan.” Later big spending efforts were also defended by the networks, as “helping the poor and middle class.”

Julia A. Seymour
Julia A. Seymour
Julia A. Seymour is the Assistant Managing Editor for the MRC's Business and Media Institute.