Let’s all be thankful for CNBC. On this morning’s Squawk Box, co-host Joe Kernen raised a question that the Big Three broadcast networks have been afraid or unwilling to touch thus far.
While Kernen was chatting with CNBC Chief Washington Correspondent John Harwood about the sequester, Harwood brought up the FAA’s announcement that it will close 149 air traffic control towers next month. It was a story that ABC, CBS, and NBC each covered on their Saturday morning shows this week. Of course, what the broadcast networks failed to mention, but which Kernen raised, was Kansas Republican Senator Jerry Moran's amendment that proposed cutting $50 million in unspent FAA research money rather than closing the towers, $50 million being the approximate amount that would be saved by closing the 149 towers. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) refused to bring the amendment up for a vote. [Video below. MP3 audio here.]
This raises a very important question, and Kernen was not afraid to go there: “Do you think there's any truth to the notion that people are trying to make sure that these sequester cuts do hurt to prove that the president’s right?”
After a short pause, Harwood answered in the affirmative, to which Kernen expressed outrage: “That's bad, right? We should not be compromising safety to say – for someone to be able to say I told you so, that we shouldn't have done this. There's ways of getting around and targeting where we do the cuts. Why aren’t they doing it? I mean, I think that's irresponsible, don't you?”
It was a glorious moment for journalism. And it came on an NBC subsidiary, no less! The major networks would do well to take a lesson from Kernen. If they have any credibility left, they will find the courage and the honesty to question the motives of their chosen one.
Below is a transcript of the segment:
BECKY QUICK: Let's bring in John Harwood, and John, these are some excellent questions that Steve has already raised about this. You look at numbers like this. You do see a big swing, but what does this mean to the White House? What does it mean to Congress?
JOHN HARWOOD: Well, first of all on the blame question, I just want to make clear I blame Liesman. Look, I think what we're seeing in these numbers is the same thing that we're hearing from House Speaker Boehner, for example, when he’s asked about whether he’ll support additional revenue. What he says is President Obama got his tax increases. And so the fact that that did happen and the fiscal cliff deal -- rates went up on people over $400,000 caused these numbers to drop among Republicans and to some degree even among Democrats. I think the challenge going forward for the president is not to make his case per se on the impact of the sequester. Events have got to make his case. Reality’s got to make his case. Because if it doesn't, if people don't feel it, then it’s not going to be...
JOE KERNEN: John, I miss you. This is a perfect segue.
HARWOOD: You saw the closure, Joe, of the airport towers --
KERNEN: That's what I want to get to.
HARWOOD: You saw a lot of squawking from politicians in both parties. That's the kind of thing that could change results --
KERNEN: Stay with me here, John, stay with me because that's where I wanted to go and I’ve missed you. In the Journal today, one of the lead editorials talks about a bill, an amendment sponsored by Republican Senator Jerry Moran of Kansas that proposed taking $50 million of savings from unspent balances, which are kind of an agency slush fund. You could have saved the $50 million and there would have been no FAA cuts if you would have passed this amendment. You would have got the $50 million, they would have all stayed open. Harry Reid refused to bring it up for a vote, and at midnight he got rid of the amendment. Do you think there's any truth to the notion that people are trying to make sure that these sequester cuts do hurt to prove that the president’s right?
HARWOOD: Yes. I think that –
KERNEN: That's bad, right? We should not be compromising safety to say – for someone to be able to say I told you so, that we shouldn't have done this. There's ways of getting around and targeting where we do the cuts. Why aren’t they doing it? I mean, I think that's irresponsible, don't you?
HARWOOD: Look, I think that there's ultimately no getting away -- there is no magic formula for making cuts of this magnitude disappear and not matter. Not in defense, not in domestic. You just can't do it.