Obama Submits Largest Budget in History, But Networks Portray Him as Fiscal Conservative

President Obama just submitted a $3.8 trillion budget proposal, the largest federal budget ever, which will come with a "record amount of red ink." The projected deficit of that budget would be $1.6 trillion, yet the networks didn't criticize him for being spendy.

To put this in perspective: Obama is proposing a budget $700 billion larger than big spender Pres. George W. Bush's last budget. It's TWICE the size of Pres. Bill Clinton's last budget of $1.9 trillion, who was credited with generating a budget surplus.

Despite the "staggering" size of Obama's budget, which broadcast networks admitted was "dripping with red ink," the reports managed to paint him as a fiscal conservative and deficit slasher.

NBC's Savannah Guthrie portrayed all the excess spending as a way to get the economy back on track saying: "He's asking for $100 billion to spur job growth - things like tax cuts for small business, tax breaks to increase wages - and he's doing this knowing that it will drive up the deficit, certainly even more in the short term. But all economists agree the real way to get a chunk out of the deficit is to increase hiring."

But Guthrie was highlighting only a tiny fraction of the overall budget and failed to criticize the administration for not finding ways to cut more waste.

CBS's Bill Plante also agreed with Obama's spending priorities for the $3.8 trillion budget Feb. 1 when he said the president "needs" to spend right now.

"The president has a serious money problem. He needs to spend more money in the short-term to create jobs, but he desperately needs to spend a lot less over the long-term," Plante said on "The Early Show."

Obama began his budget announcement on Feb. 1 by once again passing the buck to "previous administrations." Clearly blaming Bush for what he termed a "decade of profligacy," Obama criticized the funding of two wars, prescription drug spending and tax cuts before presenting himself as a fiscal conservative.

ABC's David Muir must have bought it, because his Feb. 1 "World News" report echoed Obama. Muir pinned the record deficits on President Bush's tax cuts and war spending when he answered the question: "How did we get here?"

His timeline of the expanding federal deficit began with an image of Bush signing a bill and the words "Tax relief for America." This has long been the claim of the national news media. While Bush was certainly responsible for helping balloon the federal deficit, American's for Tax Reform's tax policy director Ryan Ellis told the Business & Media Institute the tax cuts weren't the problem, overspending was.

"The networks are stupid if they think tax cuts had anything to do with this," Ellis explained. Tax revenues were higher than the average when Bush took office, but fell before the tax cuts because of the dot-com bust and the 2001 recession.

"Federal tax revenues are much more dependent on the economy than they are on tax policy. Tax revenues ROSE as a percent of the economy in the years after the BTC (Bush Tax Cuts) became law. They only fell again when the economy imploded."

According to Ellis and others, the real problem is government spending. Even a budget expert with the liberal Brookings Institution told the Wall Street Journal that Obama's "proposals will still leave us with unsustainable deficits as far as the eye can see."

Yet, none of the broadcast network morning or evening news shows mentioned that Bush's last budget was $700 billion less than Obama's proposal for 2011 or that Clinton's last (nominal) budget was half its size.

A couple of those reports cited political dissatisfaction with Obama's budget but none actually criticized Obama for spending too much.  

Obama the Fiscal Conservative

While it seems impossible that the media could paint the man proposing the largest federal budget in history as waste-cutting and fiscally responsible, that's exactly what they did.

NBC's "Nightly News" followed up its Feb. 1 budget report with a "Fleecing of America" report on waste in defense spending. Lisa Myers report highlighted one particular project that made Congress look bad and Obama look good the very same day he proposed massive spending increases.

"The C-17 cargo plane is the workhorse of the military. It carries troops and equipment to war zones, helps in a crisis like Haiti. Just about everyone agrees the C-17 is a terrific plane. But the Pentagon has said it has enough and wants to stop buying them. Still, Congress just voted to build 10 more planes. Cost: $2.5 billion. Today the president said this makes no sense," Myers said before cutting to video of Obama calling the project "waste, pure and simple."

An ABC report on Feb. 1 also made Obama out to be fiscally responsible. Jake Tapper reported, "On the same day President Obama introduced his massive budget, he acknowledged that government spending cannot continue at this pace."

Then he quoted Obama, who said, "The bottom line is this. We simply cannot continue to spend as if deficits don't have consequences, as if waste doesn't matter, as if the hard-earned tax dollars of the American people can be treated like Monopoly money."

No one in that report suggested that was exactly what Obama's budget would do. Tapper quoted one Democrat and one Republican opposed to a piece of the budget, but did not consult anyone suggesting the budget as a whole is simply enormous and irresponsible.

Obama has requested $49.7 billion for the Dept. of Education, which appropriated $38.4 billion in 2000. He also plans to expand the budget for the Dept. of Energy to $28.4 billion. In 2000, that agency's budget was just under $15 billion according to historical tables on the OMB Web site.

Since Obama took office the networks have cheered for government spending on the stimulus package and bailouts, protected him from rising unemployment and now with the budget reports they've taken the spin to a whole new level by portraying the spendthrift as a cost-cutting champion.

Want to know how else the networks spun the budget in favor of Obama? You can find the rest of the story at the Business & Media Institute.

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Julia A. Seymour's picture