Richard Gephardt sounded ridiculous (again) the other day. He called President Bush's full budget proposal "a partisan document rich in ideology and short on balance, fiscal discipline, and common-sense responsibility."
If it is an ideological document, the Bush budget is a mishmash of me-too-isms for big government spending sprees -- except for the bottom line, an attempt to hold discretionary spending at a four percent rate of increase.
In the last few years of surpluses, our Hastert-Lott Republican Congress has spent tax money like drunken sailors, which, to borrow from Ronald Reagan, is an insult to drunken sailors. The Bush White House is focusing all of Washington on the big picture of wild overall spending growth. The Democrats are trying to find line items that make the president sound like the usual villain who tied the damsel to the train tracks. And where the Democrats go, so goes our so-called mainstream press.
All the fuss isn't really about spending, but about taxes. These thinly disguised nightly Democratic commercial makers can't stand the idea that someone, somewhere might get his tax money back.
Rich Noyes of the Media Research Center's Free Market Project has looked at every ABC, CBS and NBC evening news story on the tax cut from Jan. 20 to March 31, and the picture's not pretty. Network stars -- led by anchors Dan Rather on CBS and Tom Brokaw on NBC -- joined liberals in branding the Bush tax package as "big" or "very big," expressing that as their own belief on 30 different occasions. In contrast, during this time period, not one broadcast reporter ever labeled Bush's cut as either modest or even small.
The networks quoted liberal critics who charged that the Bush tax cut was "massive" or "huge" five times more often than they quoted tax cut supporters making the opposite point: The tax cut is puny as a percentage of the trillions Washington will spend in the next decade. The TV experts almost never told viewers that the $1.6 trillion tax cut would be spread out over 10 years. And no one pointed out how the National Taxpayers Union found the Bush cut proposal much smaller than the Reagan and JFK tax cuts.
Complaints from liberal tax-cut opponents, such as Senator Tom Daschle, that the tax cut is unfairly skewed in favor of the wealthy were relayed to network audiences twice as often (31 times) as the contrary point of view (15 times). CBS never once revealed data reported on both ABC and NBC that Bush's plan offered a greater percentage of tax reduction to lower- and middle-income families.
The wealthy and successful are never suitable recipients for a tax cut, even after Democrats have singled them out for hikes. None of the networks reported that the last income tax increase in 1993 targeted higher-income families alone. Not one millionaire anchorman relayed that the top five percent of earners currently shoulder more than half of the tax burden, while the top one percent of earners pay almost 35 percent of all federal income taxes.
To no one's surprise, the worst network was CBS, led by newly minted Democratic fundraiser Dan Rather. How's this for objectivity: He led off the night of Bush's economic address to Congress by calling it "a TV pitch for a tax-cut gamble." CBS even censored its own poll finding support for the tax cut, relying instead on a woman-on-the-street interview concluding that the tax cut was, you guessed it, too ridiculously big.
In the next budget address, the president ought to meet all this compassion head on and suggest a special compassionate surtax for network news employees. Since they all believe the tax cut is currently unaffordable and the needs for the poor and middle class are so great, they will all get a tax increase to demonstrate their own compassion.