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  • Don’t believe right-wing media when they say the Green New Deal would cost $93 trillion

    Politico calls the analysis "bogus," and even its lead author won't defend it

    Blog ››› ››› EVLONDO COOPER



    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Right-wing media outlets have repeatedly asserted that the Green New Deal would come with the absurd price tag of "$93 trillion" or "$94 trillion," uncritically repeating claims from a back-of-the-envelope, deeply flawed analysis produced by the American Action Forum, a conservative think tank. Politico recently determined that the $93 trillion figure was "bogus," and quoted the lead author of the AAF analysis, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, admitting that he had no idea how much it would cost to implement the Green New Deal.

    American Action Forum has ties to the fossil fuel industry

    The American Action Forum, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, and its 501(c)(4) “sister organization,” the American Action Network (AAN), have been funded by a who’s who of the polluter syndicate.

    AAN has received at least $250,000 from the American Petroleum Institute, a trade association for the oil industry that has donated to groups in the Koch network. And AAN has received at least $35,000 from the American Natural Gas Alliance, a pro-fracking gas industry trade group. Dow Chemical has given at least $250,000. AAN has also been funded by other Koch-connected groups such as Americans for Job Security, Donors Trust, and the Wellspring Committee. It's gotten money from Karl Rove's Crossroads GPS too. AAN has in turn donated millions to AAF.

    Though some information about its funding has been made public, AAN has generally refused to disclose its donors. In 2014, MSNBC called AAN a "dark money power player," noting that it had been running numerous attack ads against Democratic candidates. FactCheck.org noted that same year that AAN has spent tens of millions of dollars supporting Republican candidates. In 2018, a watchdog group filed suit against AAN for violating campaign finance laws and abusing its nonprofit status.

    AAF's Green New Deal cost analysis is problematic from top to bottom

    Considering the think tank’s connections to the fossil fuel industry, it’s not surprising that the American Action Forum’s report found the Green New Deal untenable. What is surprising is how flippant Holtz-Eakin, president of AAF and former head of the Congressional Budget Office, was about the rigor of the analysis he co-authored. When challenged about the accuracy of the report’s claim that the Green New Deal would cost some $93 trillion over 10 years, Holtz-Eakin told Politico, “Is it billions or trillions? Any precision past that is illusory.”

    The Green New Deal resolution introduced by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) on February 7 is just a broad, 14-page outline of goals with no policy specifics, so determining a price tag was a fanciful exercise. AAF's claims of a $92.9 trillion total cost, or $653,000 per household, have no basis in reality. As Politico reporter Zack Colman put it:

    When they set out to put a price tag on the Green New Deal last month, Holtz-Eakin and his associates had no real policy or plan to evaluate, so they made one up to perform back-of-the-envelope calculations.

    And the AAF study does not distinguish between government and private-sector spending, nor does it attempt to quantify the benefits of reducing pollution or other policies. For example, Stanford University civil and environmental engineering professor Mark Jacobson estimated that eliminating the electricity sector’s carbon emissions would avoid $265 billion in annual U.S. damages beginning in 2050.

    Colman also pointed out that more than $80 trillion of the alleged $93 trillion total cost would come from implementing a jobs guarantee and universal health care -- policy ideas that have no direct relation to greening the economy, even though they are in the Green New Deal resolution.

    Politico declared that the $93 trillion figure is "bogus" -- or, in an earlier version of the article published behind a firewall, "essentially vapor."

    The fact-checking project PolitiFact also found the $93 trillion figure to be untrustworthy, calling it "only about as strong as a clothespin in high wind." It noted that "the [AAF] report itself is full of assumptions, qualifiers and caveats," and when a fact-checker reached out to Holtz-Eakin, the AAF president "made it clear to us that the report aims to provide very rough estimates on a plan that’s only partially developed." PolitiFact rated as "false" this claim from Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA): "At $93 trillion, the Green New Deal would cost more than the entire recorded spending of the U.S. since the Constitution went into effect in 1789."

    Other journalists have also pointed out major problems with the AAF analysis. Paul Blest at Splinter noted that AAF used cost estimates for a universal jobs program ("$6.8 trillion to $44.6 trillion") and universal health care ("$36 trillion") that are vastly higher than estimates produced by other think tanks. AAF also failed to account for how much money programs like universal health care could save. According to Blest:

    [AAF's] ballpark estimate on a federal jobs guarantee has a range of $38 trillion. The centrist Brookings Institution’s estimate last year, by the way, put the high end on a job guarantee at $543 billion a year, or $5.4 trillion over 10 years.

    On Medicare for All, too, the AAF’s number is substantially higher than previous estimates. The libertarian Mercatus Center’s estimate set out to prove last year that Medicare for All would bankrupt the country, and inadvertently found that Medicare for All would eventually save about $2 trillion in national health expenditures. Even Mercatus, however, put the cost of Medicare for All at $32.6 trillion over 10 years.

    The ClimateDenierRoundup column at Daily Kos pointed out another problem with AAF's jobs-program estimates:

    The jobs price tag is wrong because it’s double counting: many of those jobs would be created by the other parts of the GND. Improving energy efficiency and building a clean energy economy will create a lot of jobs, which are counted in the GND’s green policy price tag tally. But then AAF simply counts those jobs again in the jobs guarantee portion, as though none of those promised jobs would be used to put the green in the Green New Deal.

    Green New Deal sponsor Markey called out major flaws in the report too, starting with the basic premise: "Putting a price on a resolution of principles, not policies, is just Big Oil misinformation." Markey pointed out that AAF calculated the cost of "policies that aren't even in the resolution," such as eliminating air travel:

    Markey also noted that AAF did not provide any support for its cost estimate for a low-carbon electricity grid.

    As The New York Times recently put it, "For now it’s impossible to pin down dollar figures on the plan." FactCheck.org agreed, writing that "the experts we spoke to said it’s not possible to put a specific price tag on the Green New Deal."

    Perhaps most egregiously, AAF’s analysis of the Green New Deal completely ignored the enormous cost of not fighting climate change. Just last year, climate disasters and extreme weather events cost the U.S. an estimated $91 billion. According to the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a 1.5 C rise in the global average temperature would cost $54 trillion. Things only get more expensive (and catastrophic) from there. According to Axios:

    • You think $54 trillion is a lot? That number comes from research that also says that a 2.0°C increase will cause $69 trillion of damage, and a 3.7°C increase will cause a stunning $551 trillion in damage.
    • $551 trillion is more than all the wealth currently existing in the world, which gives an indication of just how much richer humanity could become if we don't first destroy our planet.

    Current policies in place around the world have us on track for about 3.3 C of warming by 2100 if we don't dramatically change course.

    AAF's analysis also ignored the significant economic benefits that would come from taking addressing climate change. "Bold climate action could deliver at least US$26 trillion in economic benefits through to 2030, compared with business-as-usual," according to a recent report from the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate.

    Fox News and other right-wing outlets have been hyping the $93 trillion figure

    Right-wing media have been heavily citing the AAF report since its release on February 25 -- and they have often used the $93 trillion figure without noting that it's at the top end of a range AAF provided. Fox News has been particularly eager to amplify the huge estimate. Hosts and guests have cited price tags between $91 trillion and $94 trillion on Fox News shows including Fox & Friends, The Greg Gutfeld Show, and Watters’ World, and on Fox Business Network shows including Varney & Co., Trish Regan Primetime, Making Money with Charles Payne, and Sunday Morning Futures with Maria Bartiromo. Sean Hannity has cited the AAF report at least three times on his Fox News show. He typified Fox's incurious reporting on AAF’s analysis during the March 5 episode of Hannity:

    SEAN HANNITY (HOST): They are going to eliminate fossil fuels, gas, and oil. They're going to destroy the lifeblood of our economy. They're going to get rid of planes, mandate you rebuild your home. Who's paying for that? The estimates now are as high as $94 trillion in 10 years --that's their proposal.

    Many other right-wing media outlets have also uncritically amplified AAF's enormous estimate, including The Daily Caller, The Daily Wire, and the Washington Free Beacon

    Some Republican politicians such as Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso have also latched onto the $93 trillion estimate and publicized it through mainstream and right-wing media. Barrasso issued a press release with the figure, wrote an opinion piece about it for USA Today, and made an appearance on Fox News to promote it. During Barrasso’s interview on Fox's America's Newsroom, co-host Sandra Smith falsely claimed that “the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office” was behind the $93 trillion figure and Barrasso failed to correct her error. (Fox & Friends co-host Ainsley Earhardt also falsely credited the report to the CBO.) From the February 28 episode of America’s Newsroom:

    SANDRA SMITH (HOST): The Green New Deal, all the rage on the left. But a new study finds that it comes with a staggering price tag: the plan estimated to cost is as much as $93 trillion. That breaks down to $600,000 per household. Those are some big numbers. Joining us now, Sen. John Barrasso, a Republican from Wyoming who chairs the Committee on the Environment and Public Works. Been hearing you talk a lot about this, sir, and this price tag. It is a lofty one. This is the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office that did a study on this and came up with those numbers: $93 trillion, $600,000 per household. What do you think?

    SEN. JOHN BARRASSO: Well, this Green New Deal is a big green bomb that will blow a hole in our strong economy. It will destroy the energy independence we now have from foreign countries. It will destroy what we’ve been doing to actually lower emissions. The cost to families -- electricity alone would go up by about $3,600 per family, per year. This is something, Sandra, that we cannot as a nation afford. The economy can't afford it. Our nation can’t survive it.

    Some Fox News personalities and Republican politicians, including President Donald Trump, have cited an even larger unsubstantiated figure for Green New Deal costs: $100 trillion. As Dave Anderson recently reported for the Energy and Policy Institute, that number originated from a flippant Twitter thread by a Manhattan Institute senior fellow. The Manhattan Institute has been funded by ExxonMobil, and the chair of its board is also the CEO of a hedge fund that is the top shareholder in Peabody Energy, a major coal company. The $100 trillion figure was mentioned by Fox host Charles Payne during an interview with EPA chief Andrew Wheeler on March 4 on Your World with Neil Cavuto, and it was also cited on other Fox programs and right-wing sites like Townhall.

    Right-wing echo chamber amplifies misinformation by design

    The spread of the $93 trillion figure is a textbook example of how the right-wing media sphere disseminates misinformation to stymie climate action (and the spread of the $100 trillion figure too, for that matter). Conservative media outlets have been freaking out about the Green New Deal since even before the resolution was unveiled. AAF rushed out a quickie estimate of its potential costs that even its lead author won't robustly defend. Surely the think tank knew that its ready-made, sky-high number would be quickly picked up and regurgitated by conservative commentators, writers, and politicians -- and it was. It is not likely to matter that AAF's report has been called out as “bogus” and poked full of holes. You can expect right-wing media to keep on promoting it.

  • A Fox News anchor recycled a debunked claim about Beto O’Rourke

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

    Fox News is already spreading misinformation about newly announced Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke.

    During a segment on America’s Newsroom about O’Rourke’s announcement that he is running for president, co-anchor Sandra Smith listed what she labeled “some of O’Rourke’s policy positions.” Among them, she said O’Rourke “called law enforcement the ‘new Jim Crow.’”

    This claim originated from a midterm election debate between Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and O’Rourke in September, during which Cruz said: “Just this week, Congressman O’Rourke described law enforcement -- described police officers -- as modern-day Jim Crow.” Following that debate, multiple news organizations explained that Cruz was misleadingly simplifying comments O’Rourke made about racial discrimination that is found throughout the entire criminal justice system as well as in legislative redistricting.

    America’s Newsroom was not the first Fox show to recycle Cruz’s debunked claim against O’Rourke as an objective fact. Last night on The Story, before O’Rourke officially announced his candidacy, Fox contributor Karl Rove stated that O’Rourke had said “law enforcement is the new Jim Crowism.” Rove repeated this claim on Fox Business’ Mornings with Maria Bartiromo today. And Fox & Friends co-host Ainsley Earhardt said this morning that O’Rourke “called law enforcement ‘the new Jim Crow,’” not just once, not twice, but three times.

    Fox News has been pushing the claim that its “hard news” division is separate from its opinion shows and commentators. But this example of a Fox anchor dutifully repeating a false talking point about O’Rourke -- one that had already been repeatedly pushed by a Fox & Friends co-host and President George W. Bush’s former deputy chief of staff -- is just further evidence that no such editorial divide exists at Fox.

  • Fox "straight news" anchors don't correct misinformation about Trump cuts to food stamp benefits

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Fox News’ America’s Newsroom, one of the programs the network bills as hard news, provided a platform for Fox Business host Charles Payne to spew unchecked misinformation regarding immigration and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

    In a segment discussing President Donald Trump’s proposed budget for 2019, which includes cuts to SNAP, Payne expanded on a quote from Trump that was displayed on screen, inaccurately claiming that “a large majority of” undocumented people in the United States collect welfare benefits. Payne went on to advocate for a SNAP reform proposal that the Trump administration has suggested, espousing the supposed benefits of what the administration is referring to as a “Harvest Box.”

    As Payne pushed clear misinformation regarding SNAP benefits, two of Fox’s supposed news anchors, Bill Hemmer and Sandra Smith, sat silently. Undocumented immigrants are not eligible for SNAP benefits. Some mixed-status households do receive benefits for members who are eligible, such as U.S.-born children of undocumented immigrants, but in those cases “the child’s eligibility does not change their parents’ or any other family members’ eligibility for that benefit.” Payne even misrepresented the report (which was produced by an anti-immigrant organization); Breitbart cited in its interview with Trump; that report claimed that “63 percent of non-citizen households end up on welfare,” while Payne suggested the findings applied specifically to individual undocumented immigrants. Moreover, Trump administration officials have openly admitted to The New York Times that the “Harvest Box” proposal has “virtually no chance of being implemented” and is simply “a political gambit by fiscal hawks in the administration aimed at outraging liberals and stirring up members of the president’s own party working on the latest version of the farm bill.” The plan appears in part to be a way to cut SNAP benefits.

    From the March 12 edition of Fox News’ America’s Newsroom:

    BILL HEMMER (CO-HOST): Let’s talk about budget and welfare reform. Here is the comment from Breitbart from the president, do we have that here? “I don’t like the idea of people coming in and going on welfare for 50 years” -- I think he was talking about immigrants right? Illegals? “And that’s not what they to be able to do -- that’s not what they want to be able to do -- and it’s no good.”

    CHARLES PAYNE (FOX BUSINESS HOST): Well, he was referring, there are some studies out there that show a large majority of illegal immigrants go on public assistance and they stay on there at least for a generation, and it’s very costly to, you know -- this is not necessarily new. You may not hear any president speak like this about it, but, you know, it’s a concern that a lot of American taxpayers have. So, yeah, he put it out there. You know, of course, Nancy Pelosi’s calling this whole thing cruel in the first place, this budget. But, he’s got some other ideas, like this harvest box that the Democrats are against.

    HEMMER: What is that?

    PAYNE: It’s a food box that 16 million people would get. It’s got -- it would cover about 81 percent of people on food stamps. And, here’s the thing, when food stamps first started in 1939, that’s exactly what it was, the same sort of program. You got a dollar’s worth of stamps that you could buy anything with for household goods, and another 50 cents that you bought surplus food from the federal government. And it was, you know, things that -- you know, beans, rice, cornmeal, eggs -- fresh eggs, so it had a two-prong impact, right? You help the American farmer; you also help the consumer, right? It wasn’t spent on things like potato chips, which, you know, no one wants to be honest, but a lot of the money now food stamp recipients receive are spent on non-healthy items. And it’s ironic because Democrats talk about food deserts all the time, but, you know, if you really care about nutrition, it’s an idea to think about.

  • Some Democrats went to Puerto Rico to spotlight the island's recovery, and Fox News is furious

    Democrats went to Puerto Rico to discuss, fundraise for, and spread awareness about hurricane recovery, but Fox News says they were "partying in Puerto Rico" instead of "doing something in Washington"

    Blog ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS

    On the morning of January 14, Fox News focused heavily on a group of over 30 Democrats, most of them members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, who spent the weekend in Puerto Rico as part of an annual retreat. Fox spun this trip as the Democrats partying "on the beaches" instead of working to end the government shutdown.

    Democrats were actually in Puerto Rico for a retreat organized by the Congressional Hispanic Caucus’ Bold PAC. According to The Hill, Bold PAC chair Tony Cárdenas said “he chose Puerto Rico for this year's convention to showcase the island's needs as it slowly recovers from 2017's Hurricane Maria.” NBC News reported that members of Congress sought to aid the island’s recovery from Hurricane Maria by bringing medical supplies and discussing the neglected recovery with Puerto Rican political leaders, including Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, and several top legislators. 

    Democrats also attended a performance of Hamilton, part of a special limited-time run in which creator and original star Lin-Manuel Miranda reprised his role to help raise funds for hurricane recovery. According to The Hill, Miranda said, “We brought Hamilton here to bring a spotlight to Puerto Rico” and its recovery. All Democrats who attended bought their tickets with their own money. 

    NBC News also reported that “The Bold PAC conference was scheduled for Puerto Rico months before the shutdown” and that the group would be monitoring the shutdown and its developments. The report also noted that the congressional members would “be able to get a bird's-eye view of how the shutdown is affecting the island that is trying to pull itself out of a financial crisis while recovering with the devastation of Category 4 Hurricane Maria."

    While Fox News did mention that it was “a work-play trip,” most of its 19 mentions or segments about the story between 6 a.m. and noon on January 14 were intended to create an image of Democrats ducking their responsibility to help end the government shutdown (which Fox News helped start) and instead vacationing in paradise while real Americans suffer. 

    Fox & Friends co-host Ainsley Earhardt said that “the optics are not good” for the Democrats when “there are 800,000 [federal] workers that aren’t getting paid,” but members of Congress who are “supposed to be doing something in Washington” are instead “on the beaches with their families.” Fellow co-host Brian Kilmeade also falsely claimed that CBS and NBC didn’t cover the story, when both networks covered the story online before Monday.

    Fox & Friends opened its 8 a.m. hour with the line “President Trump says it’s time for Democrats to get off the beach and come back to work while the shutdown enters day 24.” 

    Kilmeade said that the Democrats were “even enjoying a Broadway show" in Puerto Rico. Fox & Friends First co-host Rob Schmitt, who is covering the story in Puerto Rico, reported, “There have been some meetings and there has been some work done. But there’s also been plenty of leisure time.” He also complimented Sen. Bob Menendez’s (D-NJ) “great Instagram photo,” saying he’s “got the nice tan going.” 

    Kilmeade also asked counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway about the White House’s reaction to “the Democrats partying in Puerto Rico rather than staying” in Washington, D.C.

    Fox correspondent Doug McKelway compared the Democrats’ Puerto Rico trip to Trump’s normally frequent golfing excursions, commenting that Trump “has been picking his travels very, very carefully” with the government shutdown, and during these times “playing golf, not such a good thing, visits to Puerto Rico, not such a good thing.” 

    Former White House press secretary Sean Spicer criticized the “30 Democratic members” for going “down on some PAC event where they’re soliciting money from lobbyists in Puerto Rico and hanging out on the beach.”

    Fox re-aired Trump’s highly misleading comment that “the Democrats were in Puerto Rico celebrating” the government shutdown.

    Miranda addressed the controversy at the summit in Puerto Rico as he thanked the Democrats and other officials assembled for being “here to work, despite what anyone might claim.” 

  • After Rep. Ron DeSantis said Andrew Gillum would “monkey” up Florida, conservative media trotted out their playbook to spin away racist comments

    ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    Conservative media resorted to their tired playbook of spinning and obfuscating right-wing figures’ clearly racist remarks after Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-FL), the Republican Party nominee for governor in Florida, said that his Democratic opponent, Andrew Gillum, would “monkey” up the state. While a spokesperson for DeSantis said it was a term the congressman “frequently” uses, there is no evidence for that claim. Right-wing media figures frequently run defense for high-profile conservatives caught making racist comments.