Of the three morning shows on Monday, only ABC's Good Morning America aggressively pushed the Obama administration on a lack of substantial cuts in the 2012 budget. NBC's Today and CBS's Early Show either downplayed the issue or didn't fully explain the President's new spending.
ABC's Jake Tapper declared that Obama's plan "shows that the President will not take the lead in any aggressive measures to reduce the debt." He also pointed out, "President Obama's budget projects at least $1 trillion in deficit reduction over ten years, but it still creates $7.2 trillion in new debt, pitting the President on a collision course with Republicans who are already saying this budget does not take the deficit seriously enough and deeper cuts are needed."
NBC's Chuck Todd ignored the new spending in the budget and instead asserted that the White House is "join[ing] the battle" with its new plan. Todd blandly repeated Obama's talking points on the cuts.
GMA co-host George Stephanopoulos actually challenged Barack Obama's budget director, Jacob Lew, wondering, "As you know, many Republicans are saying, already, that it doesn't go nearly far enough. And they countered with a budget that actually cuts, according to them, more than $60 billion this year out of federal programs. Why can't the President go that far?"
On the Early Show, reporter Bill Plante didn't highlight the new spending. Instead, he simply noted that Republicans believe the cuts aren't enough.
Finally, at the close of his report, he allowed, "But overall, all of these cuts, which Democrats and Republicans will argue over, affect only one tenth of the budget. And the only way, as the President's budget reduction commission said, to get complete, total spending cuts, is to go in to the spending in the entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare. Not on the table."
A transcript of George Stephanopoulos' interview, which aired at 7:10am EST on April 14, follows:
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: And for more on this, let's turn to the President's Budget Director Jack Lew [sic] who joins us from the White House this morning. Thanks for joining us Mr. Lew.
JACOB LEW: Good morning, George.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So, let's start out. You and other White House officials have said there's a lot of pain in the President's budgets. When you go to the doctor and you have a problem, he says rate the pain on a scale of one to ten. How would you rate this pain?
LEW: You know, I think that, what I'd say is it has pain. I'm not sure what number I'd give it, but it does the job. It cuts the deficit in half by the end of the President's first term. It has $400 billion in savings brought down to the level it was at in the Eisenhower administration.
STEPHANOPOULOS: As you know, many Republicans are saying, already, that it doesn't go nearly far enough. And they countered with a budget that actually cuts, according to them, more than $60 billion this year out of federal programs. Why can't the President go that far?
LEW: Well, we have a responsible plan out there that cuts spending but also reduces the deficit. I think you have to look the at both of these in order to see whether it's doing the job. We have yet to see another plan that actually reduces the deficit. And would point to some of the cuts we're making as real evidence that these are tough choices. And I think this budget will stand the test that we live within our means and we invest in the future. We invest in innovation, in education, in innovation, in building what we need for the country to compete in the 21st century.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Where does the Republican plan, the current Republican plan for this year fail? They say that they- we can absorb far more pain. For example, they have ten times the cuts in community development programs that the President has proposed. Let me repeat the question, why can't the President go that far?
LEW: I think we're just at the beginning of a long process. Congress hasn't yet acted on the measures that you're describing. We're putting out there what we think is a balanced package with shared pain and with deficit, reduction. We look forward to engaging with the Congress and working on a bipartisan to actually solve the problem.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So you're saying that the President might be able to accept some of those cuts the Republicans are proposing?
LEW: Well, I'm saying, if you look at our budget, our budget has serious cuts. You know, I think today's a day that we're trying to take a look at the whole picture. If you look at the Republican plan so far it doesn't really chart a path to reduction. We all agree we need to cut spending. I don't think there's a debate about that. The question is, is it part of a plan that reduces the deficit? And are we asking for balanced shared sacrifice and are we investing in the future? That's what the President's budget that we're putting out today-
STEPHANOPOULOS: I want to put up this chart that shows 84 percent of the budget goes to entitlements, Medicare and Social Security, defense, Homeland Security, interest on the debt that isn't being touched by you or the Republican Party so far in the budget proposals they've pushed, put forward. Is that in fact going to be necessary to really get a handle on the U.S. debt and deficits?
LEW: George, when the commission was created, it was given the target of bringing the deficit down to three percent of our economy. That's a level that's sustainable. We're paying our current bills. Not adding to our debt. The President's budget that we're putting out today achieves that goal. And it achieves it by touching not just the areas we were discussing earlier, but by touching almost every part of the budget. You know, I've been doing this almost 30 years. I think if you look over the course of the last three decades, it's not possible, I think, to come up with an example where putting a controversial proposal out there has really made the difference in terms of bridging the bipartisan chasm that you need to get it done.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Finally, when you were last budget director under President Clinton, you left that job with a surplus in the United States budget. Are we going to see that again in our lifetimes?
LEW: George, I wish I could stand here and say that we were on the edge of a surplus. When I left, my last day in office, I went to Congress and testified and projected $5.6 trillion surplus for the next ten years. I came back ten years later to look at projections of over $10 trillion of debt over the next ten years. It's enough to break your heart. It's going to take us a lot of hard work just to get to the point where we're not adding to the debt. That's what this budget sets the course for us to do and it's just a down payment. We then need to work together to finish the job and get back to the place to talk about balancing the budget but it's going to take a while and it's going to take a lot of tough decisions. And there will be painful choices.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Okay, Jack Lew. Thanks very much.
— Scott Whitlock is a news analyst for the Media Research Center. Click here to follow him on Twitter.