During a discussion of the latest jobs report, The Wall Street Journal's Stephen Moore ignored the prominent role sequestration cuts played in depressing job growth, choosing instead to make the reality-defying claim that sequestration has in fact been a boon to the economy.
On October 22, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released its monthly unemployment report for September. According to the report, payrolls rose by 148,000, while the unemployment rate dropped from 7.3 to 7.2 percent. Those positive gains, a welcome change from losses sustained after the financial crisis, nonetheless fell short of expectations that 180,000 to 200,000 jobs would be created in September.
WSJ's Moore reacted to the jobs report during an interview with Fox News host Jenna Lee on Happening Now. He claimed the numbers represented an economy in "stagnation" that is "middling at best" and "kind of limping forward." Lee followed up, asking whether automatic spending cuts known as sequestration were to blame. Moore responded:
MOORE: Well first of all, I think the sequester has been very good for the economy, not bad. When you cut government spending, that frees up resources for private businesses. So the sequester has been, in my opinion, a very positive force and it's bringing down the deficit in spending.
Moore's cheerleading of sequestration while complaining about an under-performing economy is ironic because the slowdown of the recovery has been caused in large part by the sequester, which, according to Yahoo! Finance, is "finally dinging the economy":
Forecasting firm MacroEconomic Advisers has lowered its second-quarter forecast for GDP growth from 1.8% to 1.3%. That's very weak growth that will probably hold back hiring and spending, and depress confidence. "The sequester is expected to slow growth this year, and largely accounts for the weak second-quarter growth and lackluster third-quarter growth," the firm said in a recent report.
Pullbacks in the job market seem likely during the next few months. After five straight months of improvements, small businesses surveyed by the National Federation for Independent Business curtailed hiring in May. The latest jobs report from ADP showed private-sector firms created about 30,000 fewer jobs than expected in May, with companies hiring at a pace too slow to bring down the unemployment rate. Manufacturing activity, which is directly affected by federal spending on defense contractors, has fallen below the level generally considered to be recessionary.
Tony Nash of forecasting firm IHS warned recently on CNBC that the effects of the sequester should build as the year goes on. Even the Federal Reserve mentioned the sequester in its latest "beige book" report on regional economic conditions, citing concerns about defense-industry cutbacks in the Cleveland and Richmond regions.
According to the Oregon Office of Economic Analysis, the sequester has impacted job growth throughout the country. CNN recently confirmed an earlier report that the sequester has slowed economic growth. Worse still, an October 2013 report by the Bipartisan Policy Center found that the "full brunt of the [sequester] cuts hasn't hit yet, and if we go down the sequester path for too long, we won't be able to reverse the devastating impacts."
Furthermore, repealing the sequester would stimulate the economy. According to an analysis by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO), canceling sequestration would increase the United States' Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by $113 billion and generate 900,000 new jobs, which the Economic Policy Institute noted, is "a number akin to 40 percent of the total number of jobs created over the last twelve months."
Moore's ignorance is not new. He previously claimed that sequestration was a "success" free of "negative consequences," a sentiment echoed throughout the right wing media. Instead of spending cuts, Moore would do well to turn his attention to job creation.
The lackluster September unemployment report highlights the need for a focus on job creation, a priority that is likely to be ignored by media.
On October 22, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released its unemployment report for the month of September, which found that payrolls rose 148,000, edging the official unemployment rate down from 7.3 to 7.2 percent. While the report found positive gains in the labor market -- a welcome change from losses sustained after the financial crisis -- job creation fell far short of economists' expectations, which predicted 180,000 to 200,000 jobs would be created in September.
The underperforming labor market, identified in this month's report, presents an opportunity for the media to focus on job creation and economic growth.
Unfortunately, this opportunity is likely to be squandered in favor of promoting discussion on spending cuts and deficit reduction, as evidenced in past reporting.
Media's focus on deficits and debt instead of economic growth and jobs has long been criticized by economists. Previous coverage of budget negotiations show that media place overwhelming focus on the need to reduce spending, often leaving the more pressing need for economic growth largely unmentioned.
Indeed, this issue has already been raised by economist Jared Bernstein, a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. In a post on The New York Times Economix blog, Bernstein expressed fears that after concluding the 16-day long government shutdown, the media will undoubtedly pivot focus to deficit and debt reduction. Bernstein explains that the debate over spending and deficit reduction will crowd out discussion on the more immediate jobs crisis:
Imagine instead that the politicians turned not to the budget deficit but to the jobs deficit, the infrastructure deficit, to poverty, wage stagnation, immobility and inequality. Along with a budget conference -- and don't get me wrong; I'm glad they're talking -- imagine there was an economic conference to make recommendations on what's really hurting the country, which I assure you is not our fiscal situation. That's taking care of itself for the short term, as is always the case after a recession (deficits go up in recessions, for obvious reasons).
I'm surely going to jump into the budget debate myself any minute now, but before I do, I wanted to point out that this is not the debate we should be having. It's the preferred debate of those who seek to shrink the role of government, to undermine social insurance, to reduce needed investments in public goods and human capital, and to protect the concentrated wealth of the top few percent.
Bernstein's fear of undue focus on debt and deficits has already been realized.
Reacting to the deal that ended the recent government shutdown, Fox News host Megyn Kelly claimed it wasn't a "win for the American people" because it didn't reduce the national debt. CNN reported that the shutdown deal shouldn't be celebrated because it "kicks the can [of budget negotiations] down the road." Wall Street Journal editorial board member Stephen Moore immediately declared the preservation of sequestration cuts -- which will continue to reduce spending and deficits -- the "winner" of the shutdown, and the Journal preemptively told Republicans to stand firm on sequestration cuts in any budget deal in an October 13 editorial.
If history and early reports are any indication, media will continue their habit of promoting deficit reduction as budget negotiations take place.
From the October 18 edition of Fox News' The Real Story with Gretchen Carlson:
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Fox News has downright ignored the billions lost in productivity as a result of the government shutdown, which stands in stark contrast to the network's years-long attack on minimal waste and abuse in food assistance programs.
On October 16, the financial ratings agency Standard & Poor's released its estimate of the economic cost of the 16-day long shutdown of the federal government, concluding that it cost the American economy $24 billion in lost productivity. The agency also cut its forecast for economic growth in the upcoming fiscal quarter by at least 0.6 percentage points.
Since the shutdown was lifted on October 16, Fox News personalities have expended considerable effort downplaying the effect the shutdown had on the economy.
On October 16, Fox Business host Lou Dobbs cited a slight uptick on the Dow Jones industrial average throughout the shutdown as evidence that the nationwide closure of federal lands and agencies had a negligible economic effect. Fox Business' Melissa Francis made a similar argument, claiming that the shutdown had shown Americans they could live with "a lot smaller government." On the October 17 edition of The Five, Fox News host Eric Bolling questioned the validity of S&P, and other agencies, that report economic losses from the shutdown, baselessly suggesting that their reports are influenced by political factors.
Fox's continued denial of the ruinous economic effect of the government shutdown reveals the network's hypocritical and overzealous reporting on waste and abuse in federal anti-poverty programs.
In August, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), which administers the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), updated its figures for "trafficking," or when SNAP recipients sell their benefits for cash, in the program. Its data reveal a slight increase in trafficking rates from 1.0 percent in 2006-2008 to 1.3 percent in 2009-2011. The total value of trafficked benefits during the last three year period is estimated to be $858 million annually.
Rather than acknowledging that SNAP trafficking rates were still near historic lows, Fox misleadingly highlighted what it called a "30 percent" increase in abuse. Days previously, Fox dedicated another segment to attacking food assistance that included host Eric Bolling overestimating SNAP fraud and abuse rates by 5,000 percent.
The amount of yearly trafficking abuse in SNAP amounts to less than four percent of the wasted economic output caused by the government shutdown. In other words, the cost of the 16-day shutdown is nearly 28 times larger than a full year of food assistance abuse. While Fox has repeatedly claimed that waste in SNAP cannot be tolerated, the network has yet to acknowledge that waste from the shutdown even exists.
Of course, this should come as no surprise given the network's efforts to encourage the shutdown and resulting economic fallout. Fox News played a prominent role in encouraging and facilitating a partial government shutdown that cost the economy billions of dollars in lost productivity while producing zero policy gains for the Republican Party or its right-wing media champions. Fox has tried repeatedly to find scapegoats in the administration to shift blame away from allies in the House GOP caucus.
According to the USDA, "fluctuations in the number of SNAP participants in the last 16 years have broadly tracked major economic indicators." With the Republican-led shutdown effectively draining tens of billions of dollars out of the economy, SNAP registries are likely to increase in the near-term as the shutdown and lingering fiscal austerity drag down recovery.
If that happens, recipients of federal anti-poverty assistance can expect a resurgence of Fox attacks.
Despite numerous economic reports explaining the negative effects, Fox News personalities continue to downplay the effects of the ill-fated, Republican-led government shutdown.
From the October 17 edition of Fox News' The Five:
Fox News legal analyst Andrew Napolitano falsely claimed that Congress' decision to raise the debt limit means that President Obama can now "spend as he wishes," even though the debt limit only affects the government's ability to meet past financial obligations, and government spending has always been checked by congressional allocations.
A day after Congress agreed to a deal that would end 16 days of government shutdown and avert the financial crisis that would have resulted from a failure to raise the debt limit, Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy asked Napolitano to comment on whether the decision to raise the debt ceiling was "a deal or raw deal." In response, Napolitano summarized: "because the Democrats bullied the Republicans last night, they have the ability to borrow more money and the president can spend as he wishes for another 90 days." Meanwhile, an on-air graphic framed the congressional deal as a "borrowing binge."
But Napolitano misrepresented the way that government spending functions. As the Government Accountability Office has previously noted, the debt ceiling places a "limit on the ability to pay obligations already incurred." Raising the debt ceiling would only allow the government to meet "existing legal obligations," which, as Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke has pointed out, does not authorize new spending.
Furthermore, Napolitano's claim that reopening the government would allow Obama to "spend as he wishes" is a common right-wing myth that has been repeatedly debunked. As PolitiFact noted, "[o]nly Congress can appropriate money. Obama can only spend what he's given." The "Power of the Purse" is a congressional responsibility that places restrictions on the executive branch's ability to spend.
The idea that a debt ceiling deal amounts to a "blank check" is a right-wing talking point frequently parroted by the media. Indeed, Fox has previously suggested that a debt ceiling increase would allow the president to take over Congress' power to dictate spending.
From the October 16 edition of Fox News' The Kelly File:
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Fox Business host Lou Dobbs downplayed the effects of the government shutdown on the U.S. economy, despite economic reports stating that the shutdown has taken $24 billion out of the economy.
Reporting on the October 16 edition of Lou Dobbs Tonight about the Senate leadership deal to end the government shutdown, Dobbs disputed White House Press Secretary Jay Carney's statement that "the economy has suffered" because of the shutdown, claiming, "The extent of just how much the economy suffered is questionable at best."
In fact, economists have reported that the government shutdown is projected to have significant negative effects on the economy. Business Insider reported that Standard & Poor's cut its "annualized U.S. growth view closer to 2% from 3%." The article added that S&P estimates "the shutdown has taken $24 billion out of the economy and cut 0.6% off of yearly fourth quarter GDP growth."
Fox News hid a House Republican tactic that ensured a government shutdown by citing discredited author Ed Klein to misleadingly blame White House adviser Valerie Jarrett for the shutdown.
Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy claimed on October 16 that Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett was "the architect of the shutdown," continuing the network's pattern of excusing Republicans of blame for the impasse. But the federal government shut down on October 1 after Republicans refused to fund the government without unrealistic policy changes to the Affordable Care Act, and reports from after the shutdown began explained how Republicans changed congressional rules to ensure federal gridlock. Talking Points Memo (TPM) explained:
The House and Senate were at an impasse on the night of Sept. 30. The House's then-most-recent ploy for extracting Obamacare concessions from Senate Democrats and the White House -- by eliminating health insurance subsidies for Congress members and their staffs -- had been rejected by the Senate. The 'clean' Senate spending bill was back in the House's court.
With less than two hours to midnight and shutdown, Speaker John Boehner's latest plan emerged. House Republicans would "insist" on their latest spending bill, including the anti-Obamacare provision, and request a conference with the Senate to resolve the two chambers' differences.
Under normal House rules, according to House Democrats, once that bill had been rejected again by the Senate, then any member of the House could have made a motion to vote on the Senate's bill. Such a motion would have been what is called "privileged" and entitled to a vote of the full House. At that point, Democrats say, they could have joined with moderate Republicans in approving the motion and then in passing the clean Senate bill, averting a shutdown.
But previously, House Republicans had made a small but hugely consequential move to block them from doing it.
So unless House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) wanted the Senate spending bill to come to the floor, it wasn't going to happen. And it didn't.
Congressional experts told TPM that such a move is highly unusual:
"I've never heard of anything like that before," Norm Ornstein, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, told TPM.
"It is absolutely true that House rules tend to not have any explicit parliamentary rights guaranteed and narrowed to explicit party leaders," Sarah Binder, a congressional expert at the Brookings Institution, told TPM. "That's not typically how the rules are written."
When House Democrats attempted to bring the Senate bill funding the government to a vote on October 12, they were told by a presiding Republican member that they could not do so due to the GOP leadership's rule change. A House Republican aide later confirmed the rule change to CNN.
Fox News completely ignored the role of political brinkmanship over raising the debt ceiling in prompting a credit downgrade warning, erroneously claiming that the warning was prompted by concerns over long-term debt stabilization.
On October 15, credit rating agency Fitch placed the United States on a negative rating watch, threatening to downgrade the country's debt from "AAA" status if the debt ceiling is not raised in a timely manner.
On the October 16 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom, co-host Martha MacCallum interviewed Fox Business' Stuart Varney regarding Fitch's downgrade threat, asking why the stock market has not reacted negatively to the warning. The conversation eventually turned to the United States' long-term debt prospects, with MacCallum asking if rating agencies have become less concerned about the national debt. Varney responded by claiming that not only are rating agencies still concerned about debt, but also that Fitch's warning was primarily in response to the United States' long-term debt:
MACCALLUM : It used to be that the credit rating agencies were very concerned about the long-term financial stability of the United States of America. Is that no longer the case Stuart?
VARNEY: No, they are still concerned. That's what this warning was all about. We have failed to get our long-term debt under control.
Varney's assessment of Fitch's warning is false.
At no point in their discussion did MacCallum or Varney mention the primary reason Fitch placed the United States' credit on negative watch: brinkmanship over raising the debt ceiling. In its warning, Fitch directly cited political obstacles to raising the debt ceiling as a "high" driver of the rating watch (emphasis added):
The U.S. authorities have not raised the federal debt ceiling in a timely manner before the Treasury exhausts extraordinary measures. The U.S. Treasury Secretary has said that extraordinary measures will be exhausted by 17 October, leaving cash reserves of just USD30bn. Although Fitch continues to believe that the debt ceiling will be raised soon, the political brinkmanship and reduced financing flexibility could increase the risk of a U.S. default.
While Varney contends that debt worries were a primary driver in prompting the warning, Fitch explicitly stated that current and near term debt levels (as a percentage of the economy) are consistent with the agency's "AAA" rating. Fitch did suggest that public debt should be put on a downward trend in the medium to long term, but noted this concern was secondary to the more immediate and potentially disastrous problem of failing to raise the debt ceiling.
Republicans have held firm in their unwillingness to raise the debt ceiling without extracting political concessions, most related to defunding, delaying, or eliminating provisions in the Affordable Care Act.
Virtually every other news outlet noted that Fitch was primarily concerned about brinkmanship and failure to raise the debt ceiling. Instead of noting this fact, Fox chose to continue its history of raising false alarms over the nation's debt load.
From the October 16 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe:
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Right-wing media figures have repeatedly accused Obama administration officials of using "scare tactics" for correctly pointing out that the U.S. will default if the debt ceiling is not raised by October 17. Economists, however, have echoed the administration's warnings, saying such claims that the U.S. will not default is "crazy talk."
Here's a look at some of the right-wing media's worst accusations:
Fox News' timeline of the ongoing government shutdown cherry-picked dates to omit congressional Republicans' conception and furtherance of the shutdown over their demand to defund or delay the Affordable Care Act (also known as the ACA or Obamacare).
Right-wing media figures have repeatedly criticized Obama administration officials for claiming that the U.S. will default if the debt ceiling is not raised by October 17, instead claiming the U.S. could prioritize payments to bondholders as a way to avoid default. But economists note that the threat of default is real and that the prioritization alternative proposed by Republicans is not a long-term solution.