Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy Research highlights this odd passage in today's Washington Post:
Obama, who has overseen an expansion in spending, does not have the fiscal credibility that helped give President Bill Clinton the winning political hand in 1995 and 1996.
As Baker explains, that's a dubious assertion from a policy perspective:
One might think that whether or not President Obama has "fiscal credibility" is an assessment that readers should make for themselves. … According to the Congressional Budget Office and a wide range of private forecasters, the increase in spending that has taken place on President Obama's watch has boosted growth and prevented the unemployment rate from rising further.
It is bizarre to imply that because he acted to prevent a steeper recession President Obama lacks fiscal credibility. By the Post's logic, President Roosevelt could have established fiscal credibility by cutting the defense budget in half in 1943 in the middle of World War II. While most people might have viewed letting our military lose to the Axis powers in order to balance the budget as close to crazy, the Post no doubt would have applauded such an act of fiscal responsibility. At least it would if it applied the paper's current logic.
But maybe the Post wasn't assessing Obama's "fiscal credibility" from a policy standpoint; maybe it was suggesting that the public doesn't see him as credible. But if that's what the Post meant, the comparison to Clinton in 1995 is dubious, as a quick scan through the Washington Post's own archives demonstrates:
The Washington Post's write-up of the President's proposal to freeze pay for federal workers devotes three full paragraphs to the allegation that federal workers get paid more than their private sector counterparts -- without ever once including a single fact that would help readers assess whether that is the case. Here's the closest the Post comes to shedding light on the topic:
For months, administration officials and critics have battled over whether federal workers, on average, make more than their private sector counterparts. Government officials defend public-sector pay and say that the way critics have calculated averages is misleading.
So, basically: One side says something; the other side says something else. Useful!
The Post appears to be allergic to helping their readers understand whether this claim is true: On October 18, the paper devoted nearly 2,000 words to public opinion about government workers, again presenting the debate over their compensation as a he-said/she-said situation.
The Post's Ezra Klein has noted an Economic Policy Institute briefing paper which concludes "public employees are compensated 2-7% less than equivalent private sector employees" -- but that data has been absent from the Post's news reports on the topic. In other words, Washington Post readers who want actual facts about government employee compensation should skip the Post's "news" pages and head for Klein's "opinionated blog." Meanwhile, those who are content with opinion can get their fix from the Post's news reports. It's all a bit confusing.
Today's Washington Post devotes nearly 1,400 words to a new Post poll about public attitudes towards government workers. Here's the article's lede:
More than half of Americans say they think that federal workers are overpaid for the work they do, and more than a third think they are less qualified than those working in the private sector, according to a Washington Post poll.
But in nearly 1,400 words, the Post never comes close to indicating whether those beliefs are accurate. The only time it ever even addresses that question is this passage, in which the paper essentially shrugs its shoulders and says "who knows?":
Government personnel officials say they are refining the way they determine the salaries of a workforce that performs thousands of jobs, from park rangers earning $21 an hour in Monticello, Utah, to NASA scientists who make $123,758 at the agency's suburban Washington headquarters.
It's a highly educated, largely unionized group whose pay is based on experience and what similar jobs in the private sector fetch. The government says it is hard to compare average public and private salaries, since so many jobs outside government are in low-paying service industries, whereas government workers tend to be more skilled.
If Ed O'Keefe and Lisa Rein, the article's authors, read their colleague Ezra Klein's blog, they'd be aware of an Economic Policy Institute paper by Rutgers professor Jeffrey Keefe, who concludes that "public employees are compensated 2-7% less than equivalent private sector employees." Klein's post about the study appeared on the Post's site just last month, but no hint of it -- or any other data or studies -- appeared in today's article.
It gets worse.
A separate post by Ed O'Keefe on Federal Eye, the Post's blog dedicated to "covering news from across the federal government," spends another 500 words on the poll without including any evidence that those beliefs about government workers are false. O'Keefe did reference "Heritage Foundation statistics that found … that federal workers earn approximately 30 percent to 40 percent more in total pay and benefits than private sector workers." But he didn't mention any contradictory studies or statistics, leaving the reader with the impression that none exist.
Washington Post reporter Ed O'Keefe defends the inclusion of two Arkansas Senators in the so-called "Gang of 10" health care negotiations:
Washington, D.C.: Is it just me, or is Arkansas a bit overrepresented in the "Gang of 10"?
Ed O'Keefe: It's a moderate state with moderate lawmakers, so it makes sense to me!
Arkansas is a "moderate state"? Really?
Let's use the 2008 presidential election returns as a proxy, shall we?
Nationally, Barack Obama won about 53 percent of the vote, to John McCain's 46 percent.
In Arkansas, Obama won 39 percent to McCain's 59 percent. Wow, that sure looks like Arkansas was pretty far out of the mainstream, doesn't it?
Let's compare that to a few other states, shall we? In California, Obama took 61 percent of the vote to McCain's 37 percent. In New York, Obama won 63 percent to McCain's 36 percent. And in Massachusetts, Obama won 62 percent to McCain's 36 percent. All of those totals are closer to the national totals than Arkansas' results are. Now: How often do you see reporters refer to California, New York and Massachusetts as "moderate states"? Not very often.
So what states did deviate from the national results by roughly the same amount as Arkansas? In Alabama, Obama won 39 percent of the vote to McCain's 60 percent. In Mississippi, Obama won 43 percent and McCain 56 percent. So Arkansas was more anti-Obama than Mississippi, and about the same as Alabama.
Are Alabama and Mississippi your idea of "moderate" states?
In today's Washington Post online Q&A, Post reporter Ed O'Keefe offered a series of remarkable defenses of Fox News, like his suggestion that Fox wasn't really guilty of "promotion" of the "tea parties," they were providing "balanced" reporting. But this may be the most remarkable:
There is no objective news on Fox: Just by deciding to air some stories and ignoring others, Fox is political thru and thru. I remember the day Scooter Libby was convicted. Every news channel was reporting the story; on Fox, nothing...
Ed O'Keefe: Right, but couldn't critics argue that CNN and MSNBC devoting so much time to the Libby conviction was an equally political decision?
This is the silliness of this type of debate... all of these channels serve the marketplace of ideas. It's up to you to pick your brand. [All ellipses in original]
Wow. Ed O'Keefe, a political reporter for the Washington Post, really thinks those two arguments are equivalent? That the claim that the conviction of the Vice President's chief of staff as part of an investigation that involved, among others, Karl Rove, should not have been covered is just as reasonable as the statement that the arrest should have been covered?
That's just astounding.
Washington Post reporter Ed O'Keefe, responding to a reader who asked "what's so complicated about abandoning the 'don't ask, don't tell' practice."
Ed O'Keefe: It requires a mix of executive and legislative action, and President Obama has said he wants to end it, but wants to make sure the government does so properly. That means a mix of executive actions that he can take and Congressional legislation that will make it law -- meaning his predecessors can't enter office and reverse his executive decisions.
It also requires a culture shift at the Pentagon, where many current and former officials support DADT's repeal, but others still oppose the idea.
No. A "culture shift at the Pentagon" is not necessary in order to end Don't Ask, Don't Tell. A culture shift at the Pentagon may be necessary as a result of ending DADT, but it is not a necessary condition for ending the policy.
The military follows the law, it does not set the law. O'Keefe's answer suggests the opposite: that civilian leaders cannot enact policy until members of the military agree. That's antithetical to the concept of civilian control over the military.
Washington Post reporter Ed O'Keefe passes on an opportunity to explain that the Republicans have dramatically increased the use of the filibuster over historic norms:
VP tie breaker: I just realized how funny that question is! With this strange use of the non-filibuster filibuster, the VP's role is hugely curtailed, isn't it? There are few tie votes, because those bills never make it past the minority's filibuster. How often has the VP had to break a tie, since this strange, undemocratic Congressional "rule" (protocol?) was contorted into it's current bastardized form?
Ed O'Keefe: Both Gore and Cheney definitely had to break a few ties in their day.
That was O'Keefe's full answer. Of course, part of the reason Gore and Cheney had to break a few ties is that there weren't nearly as many filibusters as there are now -- which was precisely the point of the question. But O'Keefe completely ignored the obvious reality that the Republicans are currently making extraordinary use of the filibuster -- that there is not only nothing democratic about the filibuster, there isn't much precedent for its current preeminence, either.
Norman Ornstein explained last year:
From its earliest incarnation, the filibuster was generally reserved for issues of great national importance, employed by one or more senators who were passionate enough about something that they would bring the entire body to a halt.
But after the 1965 Voting Rights Act, the filibuster began to change as Senate leaders tried to make their colleagues' lives easier and move the agenda along; no longer would there be days or weeks of round-the-clock sessions, but instead simple votes periodically on cloture motions to get to the number to break the log-jam, while other business carried on as usual.
Still, formal filibuster actions-meaning actual cloture motions to shut off debate-remained relatively rare. Often, Senate leaders would either find ways to accommodate objections or quietly shelve bills or nominations that would have trouble getting to 60. In the 1970s, the average number of cloture motions filed in a given month was less than two; it moved to around three a month in the 1990s. This Congress, we are on track for two or more a week. The number of cloture motions filed in 1993, the first year of the Clinton presidency, was 20. It was 21 in 1995, the first year of the newly Republican Senate. As of the end of the first session of the 110th Congress, there were 60 cloture motions, nearing an all-time record.
What makes this Congress different? The most interesting change is GOP strategy. Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell (KY) has threatened filibuster on a wide range of issues, in part to force Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) to negotiate with his party and in part just to gum up the works. Republicans have invoked filibusters or used other delaying tactics on controversial issues like Medicare prescription drugs, the war in Iraq, and domestic surveillance-and on non-controversial issues like ethics reform and electronic campaign disclosure.
Washington Post reporter Ed O'Keefe, during today's "Post Politics Hour":
I think we're already starting to see signs of Obama taking the blame. Look at last week's Post-ABC poll that showed that while most Americans still like Obama personally, they've got serious concerns about how he's going to address the deficit, the economic stimulus plan and health care reform efforts.
The poll to which O'Keefe refers does not say anything about whether Americans "like Obama personally." The poll asked whether respondents "approve or disapprove of the way Barack Obama is handling his job as president?" Personal favorability and job approval ratings are not the same thing, no matter how much journalists conflate them.
Saying Americans "like Obama personally" but have "serious concerns" about how he is going to do his job is a distortion of the poll's actual findings, which is that a strong majority of Americans approve of how Obama is doing his job.
As for those "serious concerns," the poll finds that 56 percent of Americans approve of Obama's handling of the economy while only 41 percent disapprove. Health care: 53 percent approve, 39 percent disapprove. The public is split, 48-48 on his handling of deficits. O'Keefe's description of the poll as showing "serious concerns" about Obama's handling of these issues is misleading.
Actually, it's worse than that looks. O'Keefe's phrasing is forward-looking: "serious concerns about how he's going to address ..." The Post and ABC also asked whether respondents trusted Obama or Republicans in Congress to handle a variety of issues; that question is pertinent to O'Keefe's phrasing. On health care, Obama had a 55-27 advantage; on the economy, he led 55-31; and on the budget deficit he led 56-30.
Washingtonpost.com blogger Ed O'Keefe uncritically quoted Betsy McCaughey's false claim from her Bloomberg op-ed that provisions in the House-passed recovery bill would permit the government to "monitor [health] treatments" and restrict what "your doctor is doing" with regard to patient care. In fact, the provisions McCaughey referred to address establishing an electronic records system such that doctors would have complete, accurate information about their patients "to help guide medical decisions at the time and place of care."