GOP Agenda Setting: Fox Strains To Make Debt “Top Issue”

Fox News figures have aggressively pushed national debt as the number one issue facing America -- a message that echoes what many top Republicans have said. Yet experts argue that job growth and the economy should be our top priority instead -- a sentiment shared by voters, according to public opinion polls.

Fox News Pushes Debt Reduction As “Issue Number One For The American People”

Hemmer: National Debt “Is Issue Number One For The American People.” America's Newsroom anchor Bill Hemmer said:

The problem is the clock keeps ticking. You're at $14.3, close to $14.4 trillion dollars in debt. And you know, all the politicians on the Hill know, this is issue number one for the American people.

[Fox News, America's Newsroom, 5/18/11, via]

Fox's McDowell: “The Number One Issue” Is “Our Debt.” During a discussion of Newt Gingrich's strengths and weaknesses as a candidate on The O'Reilly Factor, Fox Business' Dagen McDowell said:

The number one issue in this country is actually our debt. [Fox News, The O'Reilly Factor, 5/18/11]

O'Reilly: “America's Debt Is The Most -- The Most -- Vital Issue Facing” Us. From the May 26 edition of The O'Reilly Factor:

But as Talking Points stated last night, America's debt is the most -- the most -- vital issue facing we the people. And you can't get the debt under control until you figure out Medicare. [Fox News, The O'Reilly Factor, 5/26/11]

Gretchen Carlson Calls The Deficit “The Biggest Problem At Hand.” During an interview with Rep. Eric Cantor, Gretchen Carlson said:

And I've sort of been echoing that this morning, Congressman, because I feel like a lot of the American public is really fed up that we just can't get the job done. And are we really attacking the biggest problem at hand which is the deficit? [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 3/2/11, via Nexis]

But Experts Argue That The Economy Should Be A Priority Over The Deficit

Krugman: “Jobs Now, Deficits Later Was And Is The Right Strategy.” Nobel laureate Paul Krugman criticized efforts to focus on budget deficits rather than economic growth in a New York Times column:

Why not slash deficits immediately? Because tax increases and cuts in government spending would depress economies further, worsening unemployment. And cutting spending in a deeply depressed economy is largely self-defeating even in purely fiscal terms: any savings achieved at the front end are partly offset by lower revenue, as the economy shrinks.

So jobs now, deficits later was and is the right strategy. Unfortunately, it's a strategy that has been abandoned in the face of phantom risks and delusional hopes. On one side, we're constantly told that if we don't slash spending immediately we'll end up just like Greece, unable to borrow except at exorbitant interest rates. On the other, we're told not to worry about the impact of spending cuts on jobs because fiscal austerity will actually create jobs by raising confidence.

How's that story working out so far?

Self-styled deficit hawks have been crying wolf over U.S. interest rates more or less continuously since the financial crisis began to ease, taking every uptick in rates as a sign that markets were turning on America. But the truth is that rates have fluctuated, not with debt fears, but with rising and falling hope for economic recovery. And with full recovery still seeming very distant, rates are lower now than they were two years ago. [The New York Times, 3/24/11]

Baker: “It Is Ridiculous To Be Spending So Much Time Yelling About The Deficit At Time When 25 Million People Are Unemployed, Underemployed Or Out Of The Work Force Altogether.” Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, while criticizing efforts during the economic recovery to shift from job growth policies toward deficit reduction, promoted an economic plan developed by the Economic Policy Institute:

It is ridiculous to be spending so much time yelling about the deficit at time when 25 million people are unemployed, underemployed or out of the work force altogether.

It is especially absurd when everyone knows that the economic crisis caused by the collapse of the housing bubble is the main reason that we have large deficits today. The main reason the budget went from deficit to surplus in 90s was the unexpected drop to 4 percent unemployment at the end of the decade, not deficit reduction measures by President Clinton and/or the Republican Congress.

Once the economy is back near full employment, the EPI plan gets most of its revenue from increasing taxes on the wealthy, the big winners in the economy over the last three decades. It also includes a tax on Wall Street financial speculation; taxing the folks whose recklessness brought on this economic disaster.

The cuts focus on the military budget. It protects Social Security and Medicare, which are vital programs to the country's workers and their families, and actually increases spending on infrastructure, education, and other areas that will foster long-term growth.

What is striking is that this program is broadly consistent with extensive public opinion polling on the budget. [, 5/23/11]

KCEP Director: Legislaton To “Reduce The Budget Deficit” Should Occcur “Once The Economy Is Back On Its Feet.” From an op-ed by the Director of The Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, Jason Bailey:

In the short-term, the most important deficit is the jobs deficit, and plans to cut critical investments will only make that problem worse. Elimination of necessary services would ripple through local economies and cost jobs.

We can and should enact legislation that will reduce the budget deficit once the economy is back on its feet. But one necessary ingredient to a lower long-term deficit is strong economic growth, which will require investment in education, infrastructure, clean energy and other areas. A deficit reduction approach comprised entirely of cutting needed investments will harm the future growth rate. [The Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, 3/9/11]

CBPP: Deficit Reduction Legislation Should “Take Effect Once The Economy Is Stronger.” From a report by Robert Greenstein, president of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities:

Policymakers should meet this goal in a reasonable period of time, but it isn't necessary to meet it in the next few years. Indeed, it would be unwise to put austerity measures into effect now while the economy is still growing too slowly to bring unemployment down to more normal levels in the next few years. Putting substantial deficit-reduction measures into effect now would cause the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs over the next year or two by slowing the already inadequate economic growth. Ideally, policymakers would enact legislation this year that begins to take effect once the economy is stronger -- probably in fiscal year 2013, not before -- and puts us on track to stabilize the debt as a share of GDP by the end of this decade. Doing so would involve very tough choices, both substantively and politically, but meeting that goal would be a huge accomplishment and greatly allay the fears of financial markets. Reducing the deficit more precipitously, however, is neither necessary nor sound as fiscal or economic policy. [Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 3/24/11]

Over 300 Economists: A “Premature Focus On Deficit Reduction ... Could Push Us Back Into Recession.” From a statement signed by over 300 economists:

Today there is a grave danger that the still-fragile economic recovery will be undercut by austerity economics. A turn by major governments away from the promotion of growth and jobs and to premature focus on deficit reduction could slow growth and increase unemployment - and could push us back into recession. [Institute for America's Future, accessed 5/20/11]

And Polls Show That Americans View Jobs And The Economy As The Number One Issue - Not Deficits

Fox News Poll: More Than Twice As Many Americans Say Politicians Should Focus On The Economy And Jobs Than Deficits And Spending. Results from a May Fox News poll indicated that 50 percent of Americans believe that the President and Congress should focus on the “economy and jobs,” while only 22 percent said they should focus on “deficit and government spending.” [Fox News Poll conducted 5/15/11 - 5/17/11]

NYT/CBS Poll: Jobs And The Economy Are Considered More Important That Deficits. Results from a New York Times/CBS News indicated that 22 percent of Americans believe that employment is “the most important problem facing the country today,” and an additional 18 percent ranked the economy as the most important issues. Only 15 percent rated the budget deficit as the most important issue of the day. [New York Times/CBS News poll conducted 4/15/11 - 4/20/11]