Bush's 'Wins May Cost Him' -- News or Wishful Thinking?

The top headline in Saturday's Washington Post underlines the tendency for displaying bias by practicing future-tense journalism. "Bush's Budget Wins May Cost Him" is the headline on Jonathan Weisman's report. Inside, the headline is similar in tone: "President Could Pay a Price for Victories Over Democrats." He may -- or he may not. He could -- or he could not. But it's hard to escape the notion that the Post thinks he should. Or perhaps the Post is afraid that a series of wins by Bush may make him look powerful and boost his approval rating, and they want to keep following his image around with their own cherished personal collection of dark clouds of text.

Why can't the newspapers simply report what has already happened, and not bog down the reader with their own biased impressions of what could or should happen next? Why must reporters always get out a crystal ball and wear a silly fortune-teller's hat? Weisman's soothsayer story began this way:

As Congress stumbles toward Christmas, President Bush is scoring victory after victory over his Democratic adversaries. He has beaten back domestic spending increases, thwarted an expansion of children's health insurance coverage, defeated tax hikes, won funding for the war in Iraq and pushed Democrats toward shattering their pledge not to add to the federal deficit with new tax cuts or rises in mandatory spending.

But the cost of those wins could be high, both for the federal debt and for the president's own priorities.

Bush's steadfast stand against Democratic spending, coupled with his equally resolute opposition to tax increases, could raise the federal debt this fiscal year by nearly $240 billion. As Democrats struggle to meet his demands, they are jettisoning renewable-energy and conservation incentives that Bush championed, and they may ax some of his most cherished programs.

Even some Republicans bristle at the president's inflexibility. Bush has pledged never to sign bills with tax increases, even tax increases that he once supported.

The "even Republican" in this story is Sen. Chuck Grassley, who seems especially willing lately to be a thorn in the president's knuckles. (Far be it from any conservative, though, to protest Republicans who chide President Bush for failing to veto a single bill before the Democrats came to power.) Weisman lamented that the deficit is about to widen again because of Bush. His attempts to keep Democrats from adding $11 to $22 billion in new spending are completely nullified by his own agenda, Weisman protested, including his fight to prevent a tax hike to offset relief of the "alternative minimum tax" now threatening double-income couples at the bottom of the six-figure range: 

If, as expected, Congress passes a bill without making up the lost revenue, the cost to the Treasury would swamp the savings from Bush's spending fight.

The president also has taken to the White House's bully pulpit week after week to demand nearly $200 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, without tax increases or spending cuts. If the president prevails on all three fronts, he will end up adding about $239 billion to the federal deficit this fiscal year.

"I have difficulty seeing how $11 billion or $22 billion in discretionary spending on the domestic side of the equation is so fiscally irresponsible when juxtaposed against these major AMT provisions of $50 billion, or certainly against the $70-plus billion they want for the global war on terror, Iraq and Afghanistan," said G. William Hoagland, a Republican budget adviser to former Senate majority leader Bill Frist (Tenn.). "It doesn't pass the sensible man's test."

Right there, in a nutshell, is where Weisman and the Post want the reader to focus. Bush is not a sensible man. The sensible man in Washington aims to do exactly what The Washington Post wants. Hoagland, a long-time budget aide to Sen. Pete Domenici, is also an unofficial spokesman for Permanent Washington. He has affixed his name to recommendations from the Brookings Institution, a liberal-to-moderate think tank, that the next president try a roughly 50-50 mix of tax increases and spending cuts to pare the deficit.

President Bush the Younger ought to have a healthy contempt for that proposal -- President Bush the Elder broke his no-new-taxes pledge for that kind of a "sensible man" deal in 1990, and federal spending (and the deficit) exploded.

Bush would prefer that voters focus on a different crystal-ball story. The federal deficit may decrease by more than a third in this fiscal year.

Economy Budget Washington Post Jonathan Weisman
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