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  • Trump’s Tax Returns Eclipse Coverage Of The Economy

    Media Emphasis On Tax Returns Overshadows Outrageous Tax Policies

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX MORASH

    According to Media Matters’ ongoing quarterly analyses of prime-time weekday cable news coverage of the economy, cable outlets more frequently discussed Republican nominee Donald Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns than any economic topic from July through September. Amid the flurry of coverage focused on Trump’s tax secrecy, the major cable networks missed an opportunity to also thoroughly discuss how Trump’s unworkable tax policy proposals would adversely affect the American public.

    With just one day left before Election Day, Trump has yet to release his tax returns during his run for president of the United States. According to The Huffington Post, “the writing has been on the wall for months now” that Trump would not release his tax returns before November 8. Trump’s refusal to disclose his tax returns makes him the first major party nominee to do so since 1976. Media have floated many theories for why Trump has refused to release his tax information: He may be hiding the fact that he has not paid federal income taxes; he could be covering up the news that he makes less money than he claims; or he might be trying to disguise the fact that he improperly used funds from his nonprofit foundation for personal expenses.

    In the third quarter of the year, evening cable news shows featured 63 segments dedicated to Trump’s tax returns -- more than the number of segments on actual tax policy (49) or any other economic subject. Media Matters tracked the number of segments each of the three major cable news networks -- CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC -- committed to Trump’s tax returns. Then we compared those figures to the other economic topics tracked as part of our quarterly report on coverage of the economy -- economic inequality, economic growth, tax policy, the federal deficit and national debt, health care, and the minimum wage:

    Fox News: Least Coverage, Most Spin

    Fox News spent much of the third quarter ignoring Trump’s tax returns while promoting his embrace of failed trickle-down economic policies. Fox aired the fewest segments discussing Trump’s tax returns (11) -- fewer segments than the network spent on economic inequality (38), economic growth (33), taxes (29), the debt and deficit (15) -- and the same number as network devoted to health care (11). The only economic topic Fox News had fewer segments on was the minimum wage (5).

    Fox’s economic coverage largely pushed economic claims aligned with Trump’s policies. Of the 76 segments Fox aired discussing the economy, almost one-third (24) specifically discussed the supposed benefits of cutting taxes -- a major part of Trump’s tax plan. Fox’s Hannity frequently used persistent economic inequality as a foil against Trump’s political opponents to claim progressive economic policies under President Obama had failed.

    Despite airing the fewest segments about Trump’s tax returns, the majority of Fox’s segments actually attempted to defend Trump’s decision not to release his tax returns -- and Fox was the only network that attempted to defend Trump. Out of 11 segments, Media Matters identified seven that were either attempts by the host to defend Trump’s actions or were appearances by Trump where he defended not releasing his tax returns. Five of these seven segments were on Fox News’ The O’Reilly Factor.

    MSNBC Covered Trump’s Tax Returns More Than All Economic Issues Combined

    Coverage of Trump’s tax returns on MSNBC eclipsed all other economic coverage. Much of MSNBC’s relentless drumbeat for transparency came from The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell, which accounted for over half of all coverage at the network, with 17 segments, followed by All In with Chris Hayes (10), and The Rachel Maddow Show (3). In total, the network discussed Trump’s tax returns in 30 segments, more than all economic segments combined (25).

    While MSNBC dedicated more coverage in the third quarter to Trump’s failure to release his tax returns than any other network, it also provided the least amount of coverage on the economy (25 segments) compared to CNN (35) and Fox News (76). MSNBC did discuss tax policy in relation to Trump's tax returns once and was the only network to do so. As was the case with CNN and Fox, MSNBC could have used more of its segments on Trump’s tax returns to provide more context on how Trump’s actual tax policy plans would increase the deficit and neglect the middle class while giving the largest tax reductions to high-income individuals. Unfortunately, MSNBC covered tax policy only 12 times:

    CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360 Pressed Trump Campaign To Disclose Tax Returns

    CNN featured twice as many segments discussing Trump’s tax returns (22) as Fox News (11). CNN also discussed the economy (35) more than MSNBC (25). Yet, while CNN did have more economic coverage than MSNBC, the network did not produce as many segments discussing tax policy (8) as MSNBC (12). And while none of MSNBC’s coverage on tax policy pushed debunked trickle-down economics, CNN did have three segments promoting the supposed benefits of tax cuts.

    CNN covered Trump’s taxes more than any single economic topic: economic inequality (16), economic growth (17), tax policy (8), the debt and deficit (4), the minimum wage (5), and health care (5). Slightly over half of the segments on Trump’s tax returns were from Anderson Cooper 360 (12). In one exchange with Trump senior adviser Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Sanders claimed Trump could not release his tax returns because he is being audited, and host Anderson Cooper answered that “what you are saying doesn't make sense.” From the September 9 edition of Anderson Cooper 360:

    Trump’s Tax Returns Outshine Trump’s Economic Agenda

    Scrutiny of Trump's missing tax returns was necessary given the possible reasons for his unprecedented breach of political norms. Trump has tried to falsely claim that he cannot release his tax returns while under audit by the IRS, but even President Richard Nixon released his tax returns during his re-election campaign in 1972, when he was under audit by the IRS.

    Trump’s tax returns are just one aspect of the concerns media and experts have had with his extreme and unconventional campaign. Trump’s economic plan has been blasted as “pie in the sky” and “magical thinking” by experts on both sides of the aisle. The conservative-leaning Tax Foundation found Trump’s proposed tax cuts will explode the deficit by $2.6 to $3.9 trillion. Media Matters identified 19 economic myths Trump has spread during this election cycle. Trump’s actions even moved 370 economists, including eight Nobel laureates, to sign a letter denouncing his repeated lies about the economy.

    Methodology

    Media Matters conducted a Nexis search of transcripts of network broadcast news and cable prime-time (defined as 8 p.m. through 11 p.m.) weekday programs on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC from July 1, 2016, through September 30, 2016. We identified and reviewed all segments that included any of the following keywords: econom! or jobs or growth or debt or deficit or minimum wage or inequality or taxes or poverty or low income or low-income or obamacare or aca or affordable care act or health care.

  • 370 Economists Debunk Trump's Right-Wing Media Myths On The Economy

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX MORASH

    Hundreds of economists, including eight Nobel laureates, signed a letter denouncing Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s repeated lies about job growth, trade, immigration, the federal debt, and the state of the American economy. The misinformation the economists identified is not Trump’s alone, but the product of a right-wing media echo chamber that specializes in spreading myths about the economy to serve its partisan agenda.

    The Wall Street Journal published a letter from 370 economists on November 1 denouncing Trump’s economic policies and the distortions upon which they are built. The Journal reported that the letter was “less partisan or ideological” than similar letters aimed at political candidates and instead focused on “Trump’s history of promoting debunked falsehoods” and “conspiracy theories” instead of “engag[ing] with reality.” The economists took specific issue with Trump’s false claims that the unemployment rate is higher than the federal government reports, that increasing tariffs would lead to more U.S. manufacturing jobs, that immigration has hurt the U.S. economy, and that his proposed tax cuts will decrease the deficit. From the letter:

    • He degrades trust in vital public institutions that collect and disseminate information about the economy, such as the Bureau of Labor Statistics, by spreading disinformation about the integrity of their work.
    • He has misled voters in states like Ohio and Michigan by asserting that the renegotiation of NAFTA or the imposition of tariffs on China would substantially increase employment in manufacturing. In fact, manufacturing’s share of employment has been declining since the 1970s and is mostly related to automation, not trade.
    • He claims to champion former manufacturing workers, but has no plan to assist their transition to well-compensated service sector positions. Instead, he has diverted the policy discussion to options that ignore both the reality of technological progress and the benefits of international trade
    • He has misled the public by asserting that U.S. manufacturing has declined. The location and product composition of manufacturing has changed, but the level of output has more than doubled in the U.S. since the 1980s.

    [...]

    • He has lowered the seriousness of the national dialogue by suggesting that the elimination of the Environmental Protection Agency or the Department of Education would significantly reduce the fiscal deficit. A credible solution will require an increase in tax revenue and/or a reduction in spending on Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, or Defense
    • He claims he will eliminate the fiscal deficit, but has proposed a plan that would decrease tax revenue by $2.6 to $5.9 trillion over the next decade according to the non-partisan Tax Foundation.

    [...]

    • He uses immigration as a red herring to mislead voters about issues of economic importance, such as the stagnation of wages for households with low levels of education. Several forces are responsible for this, but immigration appears to play only a modest role. Focusing the dialogue on this channel, rather than more substantive channels, such as automation, diverts the public debate to unproductive policy options.

    The falsehoods the economists denounce have been well-documented -- Media Matters identified 19 economic myths Trump has spread during this election cycle. The economists took issue with Trump falsely claiming the unemployment rate could be as high as 42 percent, a wildly exaggerated figure that has been repeatedly debunked after being popularized by right-wing radio host Rush Limbaugh and Fox News.

    The economists denounced Trump’s attacks on immigrants and immigration reform, which have been enabled by Fox hosts Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly, and others at the network. According to Vice, Trump learned his anti-immigrant rhetoric from right-wing commentator Ann Coulter, who has attacked immigrants for years. Yet, as FiveThirtyEight chief economics writer Ben Casselman pointed out, immigration has “important economic advantages” for the United States, including stoking economic growth by imbuing the population with younger and more economically productive workers and consumers.

    The economists pointed out that Trump’s proposed tax cuts will explode the deficit by $2.6 to $3.9 trillion. Media Matters has pointed out that Trump’s tax policy agenda has been discredited as “pie in the sky” and “magical thinking” by experts on both sides of the aisle, but it has nevertheless found repeated defenders in Fox News, which falsely claims huge tax cuts for the wealthiest of Americans is “how we grow the economy.” The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board has also defended Trump’s tax plan, lauding it for reducing taxes on the wealthy.

    Even conservative Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin -- no stranger to pushing absurd and unrealistic right-wing media narratives when it suits her -- slammed Trump’s “know-nothingism” on the economy. Conservative Chicago Tribune columnist Steve Chapman had also previously hit the GOP nominee for perpetuating “a scam, skillfully pitched to fool the gullible” with his fact-free economic populism.

    But criticism from a few conservative writers does not change the fact that conservative media outlets enabled Trump’s lies, paved the way for his presidential campaign, and built the political infrastructure he needed to conquer the Republican Party. As Media Matters and others have repeatedly pointed out, Trump is a creation of the right-wing media. His willingness to echo any number of right-wing media economic myths is further proof of that.

  • STUDY: Cable And Broadcast Coverage Of The Economy Stumbles In Election Season

    Economists Made Up Roughly 8 Percent Of Guests In Third Quarter Of 2016 Amid Rampant Misinformation From Trump Campaign

    ››› ››› CRAIG HARRINGTON & ALEX MORASH

    Cable and broadcast news outlets dedicated considerably less airtime to the economy in the third quarter of 2016 compared to the previous three-month period, as media focused increasingly on the presidential horserace. The proportion of economic news segments touching on economic inequality increased relative to the previous quarter, but the tone of coverage revealed problematic trends toward misinformation as Fox News assumed an even more prominent role in shaping the dialogue. The relative proportion of economists featured as guests during qualifying segments reached an all-time high during the third quarter as outlets struggled to keep up with Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s shifting and often-contradictory tax and economic policy proposals.

  • Network Morning Shows Barely Acknowledge Trump’s Possibly Illegal Tax Avoidance

    ABC, NBC, And CBS Morning Shows Cover Days-Old Clinton Email Story 15 Times More Than New Report On Trump’s Tax Avoidance Scheme

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT & ALEX KAPLAN

    The network morning shows spent nearly half an hour covering the four-day-old story that the FBI found emails that may be pertinent to an investigation of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s private email server, but less than two minutes on a new report detailing possibly illegal actions Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump took in the 1990s to avoid reporting hundreds of millions of dollars of taxable income.

    On October 28, FBI Director James Comey defied Justice Department rules and precedent to issue a short and vague letter informing Congress that the bureau had obtained and was seeking to review emails “that appear to be pertinent to the investigation” regarding Clinton’s use of a private email server as secretary of state. Comey’s decision drew criticism from media figures from across the political spectrum and former federal prosecutors and Justice Department officials. Yet during the morning of November 1, ABC’s Good Morning America, NBC’s Today, and CBS’ CBS This Morning spent a combined total of nearly 30 minutes on this story and the impact it might have on election polls.

    Just yesterday, The New York Times explained that “thanks to a” possibly illegal tax maneuver Trump used in the early 1990s, he “potentially escaped paying tens of millions of dollars in federal personal income taxes” (emphasis added):

    [N]ewly obtained documents show that in the early 1990s, as he scrambled to stave off financial ruin, Mr. Trump avoided reporting hundreds of millions of dollars in taxable income by using a tax avoidance maneuver so legally dubious his own lawyers advised him that the Internal Revenue Service would most likely declare it improper if he were audited.

    Thanks to this one maneuver, which was later outlawed by Congress, Mr. Trump potentially escaped paying tens of millions of dollars in federal personal income taxes. It is impossible to know for sure because Mr. Trump has declined to release his tax returns, or even a summary of his returns, breaking a practice followed by every Republican and Democratic presidential candidate for more than four decades.

    Tax experts who reviewed the newly obtained documents for The New York Times said Mr. Trump’s tax avoidance maneuver, conjured from ambiguous provisions of highly technical tax court rulings, clearly pushed the edge of the envelope of what tax laws permitted at the time. “Whatever loophole existed was not ‘exploited’ here, but stretched beyond any recognition,” said Steven M. Rosenthal, a senior fellow at the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center who helped draft tax legislation in the early 1990s.

    Yet Good Morning America was the only broadcast morning show to cover this detailed reporting on the Republican presidential nominee possibly committing a crime, devoting two interview segments to the issue for a scant airtime of 1 minute and 47 seconds. The other two morning shows did not mention the Times report or Trump’s tax avoidance at all.

    The networks’ Sunday shows have demonstrated a pattern of ignoring investigative reporting about Trump in favor of hyping any recent news about Clinton. Now the networks’ weekday morning shows seem to be following the same pattern.

    Methodology: Media Matters searched SnapStream transcripts for ABC’s Good Morning America, NBC’s Today, and CBS’ CBS This Morning, with the keywords “Clinton,” “FBI,” “email,” and “Comey” for any comments about the Clinton email story, and the keywords “tax” and “taxes” for any comments about the Trump tax story. Any comments on either subject were then measured for time. At least one discussion covered both topics simultaneously.

  • Fox & Friends Misleads On Trump And Clinton Budget Figures While Praising Tax Cuts For The Rich

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX MORASH

    Fox & Friends berated Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton for her tax and economic policy agenda, arguing it wouldn’t do enough to curtail future spending, while giving Republican nominee Donald Trump a pass for his supposed pro-growth tax cuts that are projected to explode the national debt over the next decade.

    Fox Business host Stuart Varney joined the cast of Fox & Friends on October 21 to attack Clinton for claiming during the final presidential debate that her tax plan “will not add a penny to the debt.” Varney contended that Clinton’s statement was false because current federal spending is on track to accumulate roughly $9 trillion in debt over the next decade. During his critique, which cited the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget (CRFB) as its source on screen, Varney neglected to mention that, according to the CRFB, Clinton’s tax and spending plans would only add about $200 billion in new debt accumulation to the $9 trillion already baked into continuing federal spending. After accounting for the roughly $275 billion of new revenue that Clinton estimates her proposed business tax reforms will generate, her proposals are more or less balanced.

    Even though Varney seems to be a deficit scold, when Fox & Friends co-host Ainsley Earhardt asked him which candidate had the better economic plan, Varney chose Trump’s plan, which the CRFB projects would add $5.3 trillion to the national debt on top of current spending. When CRFB compared the two plans side by side, Clinton’s left projected debt levels virtually unchanged while Trump’s contribution resulted in a doubling of the national debt over the next decade:

    Varney claimed Trump’s budget-busting plan would be better for the economy because of the debunked trickle-down economic “theory” that lowering taxes in the way Trump has proposed will generate 4 percent economic growth annually. Co-host Pete Hegseth agreed with Varney, claiming that tax cuts for the rich creating economic activity nationwide “has played out in reality in the past” as Varney cited the Reagan tax cuts of the 1980s and the Bush tax cuts of 2001 as examples.

    Varney’s misleading claim that previous tax cuts instituted by Republican presidents have led to increased economic growth has been a central theme of his repeated appearances on Fox & Friends. On October 11, Varney appeared on the show and claimed that Trump’s plan would get the American economy to “4 percent growth within a couple of years.” He admitted that the plan would “initially” increase the federal deficit before speculating that “over the longer term, the deficit, I think, comes down.” Varney also appeared on September 28 when he defended Trump’s tax cuts for the rich and claimed a huge tax cut for the wealthiest Americans is “how we grow the economy.”

    The assertion that the Reagan tax cuts of 1981 and the Bush tax cuts of 2001 created an economic boom is unsubstantiated by the facts. According to The Washington Post, the Bush tax cuts increased the deficit and income inequality, and, according to a review by CBS News, they did not positively impact economic growth. Economist Austan Goolsbee stated as much on the October 20 edition of Fox News' Happening Now, arguing that the Bush tax cuts “didn't get growth” that was promised and that Trump proposing an even larger tax cut “makes no sense.” The Reagan tax cuts did no better; PolitiFact rated claims that the Reagan tax cuts led to “exponential growth” as “mostly false,” and Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman labeled the Reagan tax cuts “a one-hit wonder” where “the rich got much richer” while there was also an increase in poverty.

    According to a September 2014 report from the Brookings Institution, tax cuts do not always create economic growth and can even discourage growth by undermining economic incentives to invest. A September 2012 report by the Congressional Research Service (CRS) similarly concluded that reducing top income tax rates does not correlate with increased economic growth, but lowering top rates does "appear to be associated with the increasing concentration of income at the top of the income distribution."

    Right-wing media consistently attack Democratic politicians for their supposedly irresponsible approach to deficit spending, while ignoring Republican tax plans that would explode deficits by an even greater amount. This kind of misleading equivalency was even a feature of Fox News host Chris Wallace’s questioning during the October 19 presidential debate. The fact remains that if right-wing media really care about the debt and deficit, they have to start caring about the budget-busting tax plans pushed by conservative politicians.

    Watch the full segment from Fox & Friends here:

  • Seven Pressing Debate Questions We Never Heard

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    Presidential debate season is officially over, and critical policy questions that directly impact millions of Americans remain unasked just 19 days before the election.

    Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican nominee Donald Trump met last night in Las Vegas, Nevada for the final presidential debate, which was likely the last chance for the candidates to discuss specific policy issues face-to-face before November 8. Just as in the previous two presidential debates this year, moderator Chris Wallace chose to focus questions on a handful of familiar topics. Even within the context of six pre-announced debate topics, Wallace could have asked questions on major policy issues that deserve thoughtful and substantive prime-time discussion from the presidential candidates, like affordable health care, climate change, or tax plans.

    But that didn’t happen. When debate discussions did manage to turn to policy specifics on critical topics like reproductive rights or gun violence prevention, Wallace didn’t ask necessary follow-up questions or offer clarifications on the facts. (Prior to the debate, Wallace announced his intention to be a debate timekeeper rather than fact-checker.)

    All in all, last night’s debate largely covered the same ground as the previous two debates, both in topics discussed and in tone. If any of the three debates had focused more aggressively on what’s truly at stake -- what voters have said they wanted asked, what people actually believe is most important for their own families and communities -- the questions in this debate cycle would have looked very different. And the answers could speak for themselves.

    Let’s explore just how hard the moderators dropped the ball.

    This year, the United States began the process of resettling its first climate refugees. A bipartisan group of top military experts warned that climate change presents a “strategically-significant risk to U.S. national security and international security.” While Clinton wants to build on President Obama’s climate change accomplishments, Trump wants to “cancel” the historic Paris climate agreement, “rescind” the Obama administration’s Climate Action Plan, and dismantle the Environmental Protection Agency -- and he’s even called global warming a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese.

    Moderators did not ask a single question about the effects of climate change in any of the three presidential debates or the vice presidential debate.

    Several tragic mass shootings -- including the single deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history, at the LGBT nightclub Pulse in Orlando, FL, in June -- have shaken the nation since the beginning of the election season. Gun deaths in the United States, both in instances of mass shootings and in more common day-to-day violence, vastly outnumber gun deaths in other Western democracies -- so much so that the American Medical Association has declared gun violence a public health crisis. And Americans are overwhelmingly ready for lawmakers to take action. Seventy-two percent of voters say gun policy is “very important” in determining their vote this year, and an astonishing 90 percent of voters -- representing both Democrats and Republicans -- think that strengthening background check requirements for firearm purchases is a good place to start, as does Clinton. Trump recently told the National Rifle Association -- which has endorsed him  -- that he opposes expanding background checks. 

    Moderators failed to ask a single question about specific policies for gun violence prevention in the first two presidential debates, and they failed to ask a question about background check policies specifically in any debate. In the final debate, Wallace asked about gun policies in the context of the Supreme Court’s 2008 District of Columbia v. Heller decision about the scope of the Second Amendment, but he failed to follow up when Trump skirted questions about the case and about his specific positions on several gun policies like his opposition to an assault weapons ban and his oft-repeated false claim that "gun-free" zones are responsible for public mass shootings. The entire exchange lasted just under five minutes.

    Though seven in 10 Americans support legal abortion and one in three American women report having had an abortion procedure, states have enacted 288 anti-choice laws since 2010. These laws are creating a crisis by preventing women from low-income families -- many already parents who are struggling to keep families afloat -- from receiving the health care services they need. Some evidence even suggests greater numbers of women are contemplating dangerous self-induced abortions due to a lack of access to care. Trump has espoused support for these types of restrictive laws, and his running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R), wants to “send Roe v. Wade to the ash heap of history.”

    But moderators did not ask a question about the candidates’ stances on reproductive rights until the final debate -- when Chris Wallace asked about Roe v. Wade. Again, Trump repeatedly lied about abortion policy, and the misinformation was left hanging as Wallace pivoted to a new topic after about five minutes of discussion.

    How about tax policies? Tax rates are a critical issue that directly affect all Americans, and the candidates’ respective tax policy proposals could not differ more. Clinton’s plan would benefit low- and middle-income families most and hike tax rates only for the wealthiest earners and for corporations. Trump’s plan has been called “a multitrillion-dollar gift to the rich” that “screws the middle class,” and has been panned even by conservative economists and The Wall Street Journal. One analysis concluded that Clinton’s plan  “trims deficits,” while Trump’s plan could add $6.2 trillion to the national debt. These numbers directly impact  the short-term and long-term financial health of families and communities, and 84 percent of voters say the economy is “very important” in deciding their vote in 2016.

    Substantive questions about the candidates’ specific tax plans were missing from the debates, though Trump still managed to lie about his tax proposals on several occasions. When the candidates mentioned their tax plans briefly in the final debate when asked about the economy, Wallace again lived up to his promise not to fact-check.

    A record number of anti-LGBT bills have been introduced in state legislatures this year, and LGBT students face significantly more violence than their peers, but the debates did not include a single question about policy positions related to LGBT equality.

    About 70 percent of today’s college graduates leave school with student loans, and more than 43 million Americans currently have student debt. This economic squeeze is changing how Americans plan their families, buy homes, and spend their money. Clinton has responded by making college affordability a signature issue of her campaign, while Trump’s newly described plan could “explode the student debt crisis.” Neither candidate was asked to address this issue either.

    The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world -- we account for 5 percent of the world’s population but a whopping 25 percent of the world’s prison population. Inmate organizers recently launched what could be the nation’s largest prison strike to draw attention to deplorable prison conditions. The majority of Americans want to see changes to a federal prison system they believe is “too large, too expensive, and too often incarcerating the wrong people.” Moderators didn’t ask about criminal justice reform policies at all.

    The presidential debates instead largely focused on statements made on the campaign trail, whichever offensive comments Trump had made most recently, and -- again, always -- Hillary Clinton’s email use as secretary of state. Viewers might now  know a lot about these topics  -- or at least what each candidate has to say about them -- while still having very little information on the candidates’ starkly contrasting policy positions on issues with direct and immediate consequences to citizens’ daily lives.

    Americans relied on moderators to raise the questions they think about every day, to help them understand how the next president can help ensure that their families are safe, secure, and set up to thrive. It’s a shame the debates did not deliver. 

  • Fox’s Chris Wallace Pushes Candidates To Accept GOP Budget Priorities During Debate

    Moderator Falsely Claims Social Security And Medicare Are “Going To Run Out Of Money” Without Major Benefit Cuts

    Blog ››› ››› CRAIG HARRINGTON

    Fox News host and 2016 presidential debate moderator Chris Wallace used the last question of the presidential debate to push both the Democratic and Republican nominees into accepting a past GOP proposal -- harmful cuts to vital entitlement programs as part of a national debt-reducing “grand bargain.”

    Wallace opened his question by falsely claiming that “the biggest driver of our debt is entitlements” like Social Security and Medicare while falsely equating the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget (CRFB) analyses of Donald Trump’s and Hillary Clinton’s tax and economic policy proposals. Wallace claimed that the CRFB “has looked at both” the Trump and Clinton tax plans and concluded “neither of [them] has a serious plan” to address “the fact” that Medicare and Social Security are going to run out of money in the next two decades: 

    CHRIS WALLACE: The one last area that I want to get into with you in this debate is the fact that the biggest driver of our debt is entitlements, which is 60 percent of all federal spending. Now the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget has looked at both of your plans and they say neither of you has a serious plan that is going to solve the fact that Medicare is going to run out of money in the 2020s, Social Security is going to run out of money in the 2030s, and at that time recipients are going to take huge cuts in their benefits. So, in effect, the final question I want to ask you in this regard is, and let me start with you, Mr. Trump. Would President Trump make a deal to save Medicare and Social Security that included both tax increases and benefit cuts -- in effect, in effect a grand bargain on entitlements?

    [...]

    WALLACE: Secretary Clinton, same question, because at this point Social Security and Medicare are going to run out -- the trust funds are going to run out of money. Will you as president entertain -- will you consider a grand bargain, a deal, that includes both tax increases and benefit cuts to try to save both programs?

    Wallace’s question ignores three important points.

    First, the CRFB did not score the Clinton and Trump tax plans as roughly equivalent in terms of their impact on the debt and deficit. According to a September 22 analysis from the organization, Trump’s economic agenda will create $5.3 trillion in new debt accumulation over the next decade -- more than 25 times more new debt that Clinton’s more balanced plan. University of Michigan economist and New York Times columnist Justin Wolfers tweeted a chart from CRFB showing how Trump’s plan would “explode” the national debt beyond current projections, whereas Clinton’s proposal leaves it “basically unchanged”:

    Second, as economist Jared Bernstein of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities wrote on Twitter, Medicare and Social Security “DO NOT run out of money!!” because they are paid for by secured trust funds and specific permanent tax provisions. Bernstein also noted that the Affordable Care Act, which Trump vowed to repeal during the debate, has actually extended Medicare “solvency by 11 years.” Economist Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy Research added that, because the program can only spend money from a protected trust fund, “Social Security can’t legally drive the debt.”

    Third, Wallace’s supposed solution to avoid benefit cuts for Social Security and Medicare recipients in the 2030s is to start implementing those cuts today. As New York Times columnist and Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman has noted many times, “these proposals would be really bad public policy” and would harshly impact low-income Americans who rely on the programs for retirement security. The only reason Social Security faces a long-term revenue shortfall is because the payroll tax that funds it is only applied to the first $118,500 of individual earnings. If the payroll tax cap was lifted to include more taxable earnings, the program could bring in more revenue and be funded through the end of the century. As Krugman notes, “while most Americans love Social Security, the wealthy don’t. Two years ago a pioneering study of the policy preferences of the very wealthy found many contrasts with the views of the general public; as you might expect, the rich are politically different from you and me. But nowhere are they as different as they are on the matter of Social Security.”

    Wallace’s decision to relitigate the failed “grand bargain” from 2011 wasn’t the only example of the Fox News host using the debate as a forum to push a conservative policy agenda. However, his specific fearmongering and misleading framing of the debt and entitlements does vindicate economic policy experts’ many concerns about him moderating the debate in the first place.

  • NY Times Columnist Urges Fox News Moderator To Discuss “Budget Reality” During Final Debate

    ››› ››› CRAIG HARRINGTON & ALEX MORASH

    New York Times columnist David Leonhardt called on Fox News host Chris Wallace to base “his questions on budget reality” during the “debt and entitlements” portion of the third and final presidential debate that he will moderate tonight -- the first general election debate ever moderated by a Fox personality. Given Wallace’s track record of parroting right-wing media budget hysteria from his anchor desk at Fox News, it is possible that the moderator will fall short of what Leonhardt characterized as his “reputation as a serious journalist.”

  • Fox & Friends Defends Trump’s Infeasible “Trickle-Down” Tax Plan

    Fox Staunchly Defending Myth That Tax Cuts Create Economic Growth

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX MORASH

    Fox & Friends attempted to defend Republican nominee Donald Trump's budget-busting tax plan by pushing the discredited claim that his proposed tax cuts for the rich and for corporations would stimulate economic growth.

    On October 11, Fox & Friends was joined by Fox Business host Stuart Varney to discuss Trump’s tax cuts, which, according to Varney, will “get 4 percent growth within a couple of years.” After Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade pressed Varney about criticism of how much additional debt would be incurred under Trump’s “trickle-down” tax plan, Varney admitted it would “initially” increase federal deficit before speculating that, “over the longer term, the deficit, I think, comes down.” Varney also claimed Trump’s plan “is cutting taxes across the board” -- failing to mention that his cuts overwhelmingly benefit the top 1 percent of taxpayers, with almost nothing for working- and middle-class Americans. From the October 11 edition of Fox News’ Fox & Friends:

    Fox & Friends has hosted Varney before to push Trump’s “trickle-down” economic policies; on September 28, the show invited Varney to defend Trump’s tax cuts for the rich. He decried Clinton’s assertion at the September 26 presidential debate that Trump’s tax cuts are "Trumped-up trickle-down economics" and claimed Trump’s huge tax cut for the wealthiest of Americans is “how we grow the economy.” Varney continued his defense of Trump’s economic policies on his Fox Business program Varney & Co. later that morning, claiming that, economically speaking, “we are in a mess [and] the only way out is to stimulate private enterprise by tax cuts.”

    Fox’s desperate attempt to shore up Trump’s right-wing tax policy comes after economists, experts, and journalists have lampooned the plan’s many flaws. During the September 15 edition of CNN’s The Lead, Moody’s chief economist Mark Zandi noted that the job creation and economic growth Trump has promised are “not feasible” without a significant increase of net immigration over the next decade, which Trump vehemently opposes. CNN global economic analyst Rana Foroohar derided Trump’s reliance on tax cuts to boost economic growth as “magical thinking,” and noted that economists now have “20 years of evidence that this sort of trickle-down theory is not working.” The idea of tax cuts as a means for creating growth has even been debunked by economists on Fox -- including on Varney’s own show. Economist Austan Goolsbee scolded Varney on the April 25 edition of Varney & Co., reminding the Fox host that cutting taxes would not increase growth and arguing instead that they would “choke off the money that you needed to make the investments that are critical to your future grow[th].”

    According to a September 2014 report from the Brookings Institution, tax cuts do not always create economic growth and can even discourage growth by undermining economic incentives to invest. A September 2012 report by the Congressional Research Service (CRS) similarly concluded that reducing top income tax rates does not correlate to increased economic growth, but lowering top rates does "appear to be associated with the increasing concentration of income at the top of the income distribution."

    Varney has attempted to rewrite history before to claim tax cuts created “gigantic” increases in revenue during previous Republican administrations, and Fox has repeatedly pushed debunked trickle-down economic claims. The fact remains that tax cuts for the wealthy guarantee only one thing: lost revenue that could be spent on vital investments that improve the lives of every American.