Washington Post Budget Propaganda

David FahrentholdDean Baker is like Jesus Christ, suffering for the sins of the press. In this specific case: he reads the Washington Post so the rest of us don’t have to. Unfortunately, after he brought this most recent “reporting” outrage to my attention, I was forced to read it myself. The article was the Post’s lead story this morning and even the title is amazing, After Six Budget Showdowns, Big Government Is Mostly Unchanged. But the summary of the article sounds downright reasonable, “The Post’s David Fahrenthold examines the amount of federal spending, workers, rules and buildings over the years.” Okay! Let’s get started!

From the first sentence it is terrible. In addition to the cynical tone, Fahrenthold doesn’t seem to understand even the most basic notions of finance or politics. I’m just going to focus on the first four paragraphs and leave the rest to Baker. (I’m only willing to suffer so much.)

After 2 1/2 years of budget battles, this is what the federal government looks like now:

It is on pace, this year, to spend $3.455 trillion.

That figure is down from 2010—the year that worries about government spending helped bring on a tea party uprising, a Republican takeover in the House and then a series of ulcer-causing showdowns in Congress.

But it is not down by that much. Back then, the government spent a whopping $3.457 trillion.

What really stands out to me is the word “whopping.” That’s a highly charged word that doesn’t belong in a reasonable discussion of the budget. After all, what does it even mean? Is that an unreasonable amount of money for the government to spend given what it does? Fahrenthold doesn’t say. It is just a Really Big Number to scare the prols with.

Note also that his numbers are presented to confuse. First, they aren’t inflation adjusted. If they were, the 2010 number would be $3.63 trillion, so the total budget would have gone down by 5% in those two years. Of course no one but political hacks who are trying to deceive present budget numbers even simply in inflation adjusted numbers. It is necessary to look at the federal budget as it compares to the size of the economy. Just on the simplest level, the population keeps growing.

Dean Baker presents the math that Fahrenthold didn’t. And you can see why he didn’t: it doesn’t make the case that he wants to make. As Baker notes:

Of course a serious analysis would have expressed spending as a share of GDP, which shows that spending dropped from 24.1 percent of GDP in 2010 to 21.5 percent of GDP in 2013. This decline in spending of 2.6 percentage points of GDP would be the equivalent of roughly $420 billion in today’s economy.

That’s a decline of 12% in government spending. In other words: it is a lot of money. But Fahrenthold and the Post don’t want to talk about that because they have a political ax to grind. Note also the conservative framing: this is only about total spending. We are bringing in a lot more money in tax revenues than we were three years ago. So the deficit has been reduced far more than even this. Apparently this doesn’t matter over on 15th Street. They just think the government is too big and so they are going to “report” that.

I’m also really taken by his claim that government spending “helped bring on a tea party uprising.” That’s just not true. The Tea Party members were not concerned at all when the government was bailing out the banks. It was only when a far smaller amount of money was going to homeowners that the Tea Party movement started. What’s more, it is outrageous to claim that it was the budget deficit that gave the Republicans control of the House. Much of that was just fundamentals. After 2006 and 2008, there were Democrats in places that were overwhelmingly Republican. That couldn’t last. But more than that, the Republicans won because the economy continued to suck and seniors were convinced Obama was coming after their Medicare.

I highly recommend reading all of Dean Baker’s article. He gets more into weeds. The truth is that the Washington Post has long been obsessed with the budget deficit and they use it to call for the gutting of the entitlement programs. The whole thing is just despicable. It is not journalism; it is scare tactics with a political agenda. This is why we call the paper Fox on 15th Street.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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