Stelter Math? Somehow, Spending $3.5 Trillion Isn't Really Spending $3.5 Trillion

September 27th, 2021 8:04 AM

On the reliably liberal Reliable Sources on Sunday, Brian Stelter and Washington Post columnist Catherine Rampell teamed up to complain it was somehow "misleading" to try and put a number on a massive $3.5 trillion "human infrastructure" bill the Democrats are trying to pass.

Stelter began by complaining no one understands what "reconciliation" is, which the media don't often explain. He added "Then there are labels like $3.5 trillion, huge numbers thrown around. They can be incredibly misleading. We know there are multiple bills encompassing dozens of policy proposal, but not a single abbreviation like Obamacare or a sense of what this movement will be called, and there are countless headlines about the personal political drama. I think if you're an insider, you think all of the news coverage has been legally helpful. You're probably totally up to speed. For everyone else, I fear it's indecipherable and almost impenetrable. So can we do better?"

Once again, Stelter equates "doing better" with helping Democrats pass what he calls "monumental legislation."

STELTER: What is the one biggest thing you would change about the budget battles if you could change anything right now?

CATHERINE RAMPELL: So, there's many things, but I think would prioritize but the number one priority would be more discussion about what's in the bill, as opposed to the top-line figure, which itself is misleading, of $3.5 trillion. There are good ways to spend a huge sum of money. There are bad ways to spend a huge sum of money. But the kind of media coverage we've been getting doesn't really explore whether the kinds of things that are in this bill are meritorious or not. I would love to see more people commenting about should we invest in child care this way or paid leave that way or in climate. Instead, it's the number.

STELTER: And why is the number misleading? Why is that $3.5 trillion figure misleading?

RAMPELL: Because it doesn't represent anything. It's a weird shorthand used but the bill itself will not cost $3.5 trillion in the sense it will be entirely paid for. So the actual cost will be smaller than that, perhaps zero, [!] although I think that's unlikely. And it's not even fully spending, it's not even right to call it a $3.5 trillion spending bill because there's probably a trillion dollars worth of tax cuts in it too. So, it's really hard to boil down the essence of this legislation because it does so many things and because -- you know, they're still negotiating over the basic parameters.

CNN and Stelter think they represent "facts" and claim they educate the public, but this math is simply crazy. "It's not spending $3.5 trillion if it's paid for"? Then Washington Post "Fact Checker" Glenn Kessler came to his Post colleague's defense in creative accounting: 

Matthew Hoy offered a counterpoint: