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 MediaNomics

What The Media Tell Americans About Free Enterprise
 

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March 1998

 

Highway Billís Breaking of Celebrated Spending Caps Goes Unreported
No Tears for a Busted Budget Deal

Last year network reporters gushed over the bipartisan budget deal between Congress and President Clinton. As MediaNomics reported at the time, they all used remarkably similar language, which was also similar to the language used by the politicians they were covering.

NBCís Tom Brokaw called the agreement "a breakthrough deal on the federal budget. The best demonstration of bipartisan spirit since the Gulf War in the capital." CBS correspondent Paula Zahn also thought it was "a breakthrough deal," while at ABC both John Cochran and Kevin Newman said the agreement was "historic," with Newman mentioning the same "bipartisan good will" Brokaw had spotted. On one night (May 1) Dan Rather called the tentative deal "a possible legislative landmark." On the next night, he repeated himself, telling viewers that Congress and the White House had "reached a landmark deal today."

But this supposedly historic, landmark, breakthrough budget deal is unraveling. "Just nine months after approval of the much-celebrated budget deal of 1997, Congress is already plotting to bust the expenditure caps for 1999," writes Stephen Moore in the March 9 National Review. Moore reports that "Speaker Newt Gingrich and Transportation Committee Chairman Bud Shuster have been lobbying to lift the expenditure limits by as much as $35 billion to accommodate the most expensive highway bill in history."

According to Moore, "By latest count there are an estimated 1,100 pork-barrel Ďroadí project requests that could make their way into the final bill. Thatís about three slabs of bacon for every congressman. The projects range from auto museums, to grants to study Ďtransportation problems in Appalachia,í to a Greyhound-bus history museum in Minnesota." And itís not as if the budget caps had been stingy. Moore points out that by "the end of this, the first year of the deal, federal domestic outlays will have risen by $80 billion, or roughly two to three times the rate of inflation. In 1999 the budget is scheduled to rise by another $75 billion."

Given the enthusiasm at the networks for last yearís budget agreement, one would think that legislators who busted its spending caps would be the targets of journalistic outrage, right? Wrong. The budget-busting highway bill was met with a collective yawn by the television networks on the night and morning after it passed. Bob Schieffer, on the March 12 CBS Evening News, gave it a small, positive anchor-read: "The Senate tonight approved the big new transportation bill that provides $214 billion for highways and mass-transit systems nationwide. It also includes a crackdown on drunk driving. The House is working on a different version that would spend $3 billion more."

ABC was equally circumspect. On the March 13 Good Morning America, Kevin Newman said: "Well, the Senate has passed a $214 billion bill to improve the nationís highways and mass-transit systems." He then told viewers of tax breaks for commuters in the bill, and that "the House is considering a more expensive transportation bill." (Newmanís puff piece is curious, since his ABC colleague, John Martin, had on the February 4 World News Tonight called the bill "wasteful spending of the kind last seen up here on Capitol Hill six years ago, which was the last time the big highway bill came up for renewal.")

The only skeptical report filed the night the bill passed was on the March 12 NBC Nightly News. According to correspondent Gwen Ifill, "In an election year, itís called bringing home the bacon." But even Martin and Ifill didnít tell viewers that the highway bill busted last yearís celebrated budget deal.

If the breaking of the budget dealís generous spending caps wasnít deemed newsworthy by the networks, perhaps all their enthusiasm last year was just for bigger government.

 

ó Rich Noyes

 


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