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What The Media Tell Americans About Free Enterprise

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Thursday, December 21, 2000

Volume 8, Number 25

News Media Advise Bush To Ditch "Big" Tax Cut

Finally, Republicans, Democrats and the news media agree that George W. Bush will be the next President of the United States. But during the first weekend news cycle since Al Gore conceded the election, some liberal journalists suggested Bush should discard his plan for across-the-board tax relief and other conservative positions, and switch to a more Democratic posture on the issues.

Is this what they mean by a honeymoon? On the December 16 edition of CNN’s Capital Gang, Time’s Margaret Carlson advised that if Bush were truly intelligent, his proposals would exactly match those of the liberal establishment. "The smartest thing he could do would be the working man’s President and go for a minimum wage bill," Carlson counseled.

On the same program, the Wall Street Journal’s Al Hunt repeated some of Gore’s campaign rhetoric in blasting Bush’s tax cut. "This is so disingenuous to talk now about how we need a tax cut because the economy is going south," Hunt exclaimed. "I’m sorry, if there’s something that has to be done about the economy, it’s not that tax cut, which is back loaded [and] which is geared to the rich."

On the broadcast networks’ discussion shows the next morning, reporters seemed accepting of the Democratic-inspired notion that it’s bipartisan to reject the Bush tax program but partisan to promote it. On ABC’s This Week, co-host Sam Donaldson set up Democratic Senate leader Tom Daschle by reminding him of an earlier complaint he’d expressed about Bush’s plan: "You said that if the Bush administration tried to push that $1.3 trillion tax package that it would, and I quote you, ‘It would send a signal that they aren’t prepared to work with us.’ Now President-elect Bush, this past week, said, yes, he was coming to Washington to do it....Is that your signal?"

Daschle replied that he believed an across-the-board tax cut was indeed more divisive than the Democratic plan for "targeted" tax cuts, in which relief would only reach selected taxpayers.

Daschle’s rejection of Bush’s proposal on the ABC show formed the basis of an antagonistic question on CBS’s Face the Nation from host Bob Schieffer to Vice President-elect Dick Cheney.

"Let me just tell you about something that the Democratic leader in the Senate, Tom Daschle, said this morning," Schieffer lectured Cheney. "You’re talking about going forward with this, I assume what you’re saying here is you’re going forward with this enormous tax cut that, that George Bush proposed during the campaign. Tom Daschle said this morning, ‘I can’t think of anything that would divide this nation more than you pushing that tax cut at that size.’"

Cheney replied that "this notion that a tax cut is somehow divisive, I just don’t think that’s the case," and predicted that it would pass. "Let me just make sure I understand what you’re saying here," Schieffer demanded. "You’re saying you’re still going to push the tax cut that George Bush pushed during the campaign?"

While confrontational with Cheney, Schieffer was noticeably more agreeable a few moments later with Daschle’s deputy, Nevada Senator Harry Reid. Referring to his interview with Cheney, Schieffer noted that "he does not seem to be backing off the tax cut that George Bush talked about in the campaign. Is there any possibility that something like that can be enacted?" Reid: "No."

Schieffer’s meek follow up to Reid: "So you’re saying that’s going, not going to happen," before shifting the discussion to Senator McCain’s campaign finance reform proposal.

Later that day, December 17, a report by correspondent Bob Orr on the CBS Evening News (broadcast only in the Western time zones and retrieved from the Lexis-Nexis data base) re-iterated the idea that Bush’s tax cut wasn’t especially popular. Anchor John Roberts cited the public’s response to a peculiarly-worded poll question: "Will Bush have public support to pass his tax cut?" A slim plurality (42%) said yes, compared with 38 percent who predicted Bush wouldn’t have sufficient support.

The Evening News failed to inform viewers about the results of a much more direct question about whether citizens would prefer a five-year, $460 billion tax cut (the same size tax cut that Bush advocates, which reaches $1.3 trillion when the projections are extended to ten years). When CBS asked the question that way, twice as many said they wanted their taxes cut (61%) than did not (28%).

CNN political analyst Bill Schneider reported on the CBS poll. During a news special which aired at 10:00 p.m. (Eastern time) on December 17, Schneider reported that, "As for Bush’s agenda, there is one piece of good news we can report for the President-elect; that comes from another poll, a CBS News poll taken over the weekend. And it showed that over 60 percent of Americans say that they support Bush’s idea for an across the board tax cut. Now that the economy is getting a little bit shaky, a big tax cut sounds better and better, especially at Christmas time."

So, voters like tax cuts after all — a fact which was tardily acknowledged on the December 18 edition of CBS’s The Early Show.

The media’s equation goes something like this: Bush won the White House by the slimmest of margins, the U.S. Senate is evenly divided, and the Republican majority in the House is as narrow as it has ever been. Thus, to demonstrate a commitment to bipartisanship and unity, Bush and the Republicans must acquiesce to the demands of Democrats who control neither the White House, House or Senate.

This calculation from the media’s analysts is essentially political, while the argument of those, such as the Heritage Foundation’s tax expert Dan Mitchell, who support major tax relief is based on assessments of the current state of the tax code and the overall health of the economy. "The tax-cut issue is about much more than political posturing and election battles," Mitchell wrote in a recent op-ed. "It reflects fundamental judgments about the role of government. It demonstrates whether we intend to keep America competitive in a world economy. And it reveals whether we will finally take an important step on the road to fundamental tax reform."

"Politicians currently are awash in a sea of surplus tax revenue. They are collecting an extra $200-plus billion in taxes this year, and excess revenues could reach $4 trillion over the next 10 years. Unfortunately, one side effect of these surpluses is that politicians have lost the will to say no to special interest groups. With so much extra money floating around, politicians have doubled the inflation-adjusted growth of federal spending," Mitchell explained. In other words, the alternative to tax cuts is higher government spending — spending which would establish even higher baselines for future federal budgets.

If the networks oblige those who wish to make the debate about tax cuts a measure of how far Bush is willing to compromise his principles to placate Democrats, they will be squandering the opportunity to broadcast the rich debate over the tax cut’s merits and the country’s economic future that Mitchell outlined. Journalists need to get with the program — the campaign is over, now it’s time to govern.

Rich Noyes


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