With the federal budget
showing a surplus for the first time since 1969, network reporters
have been busy handing out credit and describing legislative plans
for the windfall. Unfortunately, they have been mostly mistaken on
The surplus is the result
of tax increases and spending cuts, according to network reporters.
ABC correspondent John Cochran’s list of those deserving praise
included President Clinton, who five years ago "pushed through an
unpopular budget that increased gasoline taxes and raised a lot of
tax revenue," and Republicans in Congress, who "held down spending
and passed a balanced budget."
NBC’s Mike Jensen, on the
September 30 Nightly News, went even further back. In
addition to American companies and the Federal Reserve, he credited
former President Bush ("for his policies that paved the way for this
seven-year expansion"), Congress ("for cutting government
spending"), and President Clinton ("Most experts say he’s done a
good job with the economy").
But according to the Cato
Institute’s Stephen Moore, crediting Bush for deficit reduction
"requires some nifty logical somersaults," since the deficit was
$290 billion in his last year in office. As for Clinton, writes
Moore, two years after his tax hike, he was predicting $200 billion
deficits for the foreseeable future, and "the Clinton White House
fought Republicans every inch of the way in balancing the budget in
1995." Even congressional Republicans, despite their commitment to
balancing the budget, didn’t do it through domestic spending cuts.
"Uncle Sam now spends $150 billion more than in 1995," Moore
reports, pointing out that the budget is in surplus because of the
booming economy and a smaller military budget.
Only one network reporter
saw it this way. "The demise of the Soviet Union cut billions in
Cold War spending," noted CBS correspondent Scott Pelley on the
October 1 This Morning. "The roaring stock market has pumped
vast capital gains revenues into the Treasury. And the Federal
Reserve Bank set the nation on a course of high growth and low
Another common theme at the
networks was that Republicans wanted to "spend" the surplus on an
"election-year" tax cut, while Clinton would save it for Social
According to NBC’s Katie
Couric, on the September 24 Today, "Democrats want to save
[the surplus] for a rainy day, and the Republicans want to use it
for tax cuts." Correspondent Stacey Tisdale, on the September 30
CBS Morning News, was similarly matter-of-fact: "The
Republicans, who say their policies are responsible, would like to
use part of it for an election-year tax cut. But for his part, the
President is expected to claim credit and call for fiscal
Only NBC's David Bloom, on
the September 30 Nightly News, reported that Clinton wants to
use the surplus for "billions of dollars in so-called emergency
spending," not just for Social Security.
For most reporters, though,
tax hikes inevitably get credit for good economic news, and Bill
Clinton is a model of "fiscal discipline."