On his Fox News program, Sean Hannity misquoted President Obama in falsely claiming that Obama, "in the [presidential] debate with [Sen.] John McCain, said, 'I'm going to go line by line. I'm going to eliminate all the earmarks.' " In fact, during the second presidential debate, Obama said that he wanted "to go line by line through every item in the federal budget and eliminate programs that don't work and make sure that those that do work, work better and cheaper." Indeed, during his presidential campaign, Obama actually promised to reform the earmark process and cut wasteful spending, not eliminate earmarks altogether.
The Politico uncritically reported Sen. Mitch McConnell's claim that the combined cost of the omnibus and recovery bills amounts to spending $1 billion an hour. Fox News' Sean Hannity and Brian Kilmeade also repeated McConnell's claim. But as Time's Michael Scherer explained, McConnell's figure is "fuzzy math that does not really mean what it seems to mean" because it is based on dividing the cost of the two bills over 50 days, when, in fact, the money will be spent over the course of many months.
On the CBS Evening News, Katie Couric stated that the omnibus spending bill was "filled with earmarks," and Chip Reid reported that the bill was "loaded with about eighty-five hundred pet projects known as earmarks, inserted by members of Congress without legislative review." But at no point did they note that according to most estimates, earmarks constitute less than 2 percent of the bill's total spending.
On The Situation Room, Wolf Blitzer did not challenge a Republican talking point repeated by Rep. Eric Cantor that the cost of the omnibus appropriations bill and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act amounts to $24 billion a day, a billion dollars an hour." That calculation is based on dividing the costs of the two bills over 50 days. But as Time's Michael Scherer noted, "[t]he omnibus is a spending bill to run the government over the course of an entire year. ... The stimulus will be paid out over several years, with most of the money going out the door over the next 18 months."
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An AP article reported that Republicans criticized the omnibus appropriations bill passed by Congress for containing "7,991 earmarks" but did not note that roughly 40 percent of those earmarks were reportedly requested by congressional Republicans, or that one of the two specific earmarks mentioned in the article was sponsored by Republicans.
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The online discussions Washington Post reporters participate in daily are becoming a frequent source of media criticism. Last week, Perry Bacon criticized the use of the "loaded" phrase "class warfare." Yesterday, Alec MacGinnis agreed that media reports about Obama "raising taxes" leave out important context (namely, that he's cutting taxes for the overwhelming majority of Americans.) And today, Ben Pershing says that the media focuses far too much on earmarks, which constitute a "small sliver" of government spending:
Earmarks, Smermarks!: The "earmarks" account for less than 2 percent of the bill. Chump Change. Come on guys! Keep your eye on the ball!
Ben Pershing: Earmarks definitely do get a disproportionately large amount of press coverage, given the relatively small sliver of federal spending they represent. I bet if you asked the average voter how much of federal spending is earmarked, they would guess a number a lot higher than it actually is. Which I suppose is the fault of us in the political press for doing a poor job explaining.
Maybe I should switch jobs with Howard Kurtz.
Numerous media outlets have devoted significant coverage to the earmarks contained in the pending omnibus appropriations bill, even though, according to most estimates, earmarks constitute less than 2 percent of the total spending in the bill. In many instances, the media have allowed attacks by Sen. John McCain and other opponents of the omnibus bill to dominate their coverage of the legislation -- at times themselves characterizing the bill as laden with "pork."
On his Fox News program, Sean Hannity falsely claimed that President Obama made a "campaign promise" to allow "no earmarks." Hannity then aired a clip of Obama stating his desire to "ban all earmarks" from the economic recovery package, falsely suggesting that Obama was referring to banning all earmarks in general.
On Morning Joe, Joe Scarborough baselessly claimed that "we're spending ... $2 trillion this year ... just to pay interest on the national debt." However, the Treasury Department estimated that interest payments on the national debt will be roughly $450 billion in fiscal year 2009 -- almost one-quarter the amount Scarborough claimed.
Daniel Gross, business columnist for Newsweek and author of Slate.com's Moneybox column, debunks claims by Larry Kudlow, Michael Gerson (and countless others) that Barack Obama is waging class war on the rich:
It's hard to overstate how absurd these claims are. First, let's talk about the "massive increase in progressivity" that Gerson deplores. It consists largely (but not exclusively) of returning marginal tax rates to their levels of 2001, before Gerson and the epically incompetent Bush administration of which he was a part got their hands on the reins of power.
[W]e know from recent experience that marginal tax rates of 36 percent and 39 percent aren't wealth killers. I was around in the 1990s, when tax rates were at that level, and when capital gains and dividend taxes were significantly higher than they are today. And I seem to remember that we had a stock market boom, a broad rise in incomes (with the wealthy benefitting handily), and strong economic growth.
Finally, there has been a near total absence of discussion of what higher rates will mean in the real world. Say you're a CNBC anchor, or a Washington Post columnist with a seat at the Council on Foreign Relations, or a dentist, and you managed to cobble together $350,000 a year in income. You're doing quite well. If you subtract deductions for state and property taxes, mortgage interest and charitable deductions, and other deductions, the amount on which tax rates are calculated might total $300,000. What would happen if the marginal rate on the portion of your income above $250,000 were to rise from 33 percent to 36 percent? Under the old regime, you'd pay $16,500 in federal taxes on that amount. Under the new one, you'd pay $18,000. The difference is $1,500 per year, or $4.10 per day. Obviously, the numbers rise as you make more. But is $4.10 a day bleeding the rich, a war on the wealthy, a killer of innovation and enterprise? That dentist eager to slash her income from $320,000 to $250,000 would avoid the pain of paying an extra $2,100 in federal taxes. But she'd also deprive herself of an additional $70,000 in income!
Can she, or we, really be that stupid?
Gross also makes a point too often overlooked: "this return to 2001's tax rates was actually part of the Bush tax plan. The Republicans who controlled the White House and the Republicans who controlled the Congress earlier this decade decreed that all the tax cuts they passed would sunset in 2010."
Read the whole thing; it -- along with this column from Michael Hiltzik of the LA Times -- is a rare sensible and factual take on Obama's budget proposals in the midst of a lot of media hyperventilation about "class war."
Media figures have advanced the false claim that President Obama promised during his campaign to stop earmark spending and is breaking that promise by signing the omnibus spending bill currently being considered in the Senate. In fact, Obama promised to reform the earmark process and cut wasteful spending.