CBS report on "mind-numbing" national debt made no mention of Republican-led Congress' years of deficit spending on Bush tax cuts, Iraq


A CBS Evening News report on the national debt, the current level of which both anchor Katie Couric and correspondent Anthony Mason described as "mind-numbing," failed to quote a single Democrat and did not point out the extent to which deficit spending by Republican-led Congresses has contributed to the debt.

During the April 1 edition of the CBS Evening News, anchor Katie Couric noted, "The national debt is expected to reach $10 trillion next year, which means it will have nearly doubled this decade." CBS correspondent Anthony Mason went on to report that "the national debt is growing $1 million a minute," and then aired a clip of Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) saying, "We have great risk that we're going to become a mediocre country that's in debt, and we're going to handcuff and put a millstone around the next two generations because we won't act like adults now." At the conclusion of Mason's report, Couric asserted, "And that debt is mind-numbing," echoing Mason's earlier statement that the national debt now stands at "a mind-numbing $9.3 trillion." However, CBS News cited no Democrats during the report. Nor did Couric or Mason point out the extent to which deficit spending by Republican-led Congresses, in particular for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and for the Bush tax cuts, has contributed to the federal debt.

According to the Congressional Budget Office's (CBO) "Budget and Economic Outlook: Fiscal Years 2008 to 2018," gross federal debt is projected to reach $9.93 trillion by the end of 2009, whereas in 2000, the gross federal debt was $5.63 trillion. As Media Matters for America previously documented, President Bush assumed office with a $125.3 billion surplus for fiscal 2001 (which began October 1, 2000), and according to the standardized budget, which includes adjustments such as cyclical fluctuations, the government has run a deficit in every fiscal year of Bush's presidency, ranging in size from a $157.8 billion deficit in 2002 to a $412.7 billion deficit in 2004. Nevertheless, Bush did not veto a single spending bill during the first six years of his administration, a period in which the House was controlled by Republicans and during which the Senate was controlled by Republicans for all but 18 months.

In a review of spending for the wars in Iraq and Afghansitan released in February, CBO director Peter Orszag noted, "If the Administration's request for 2008 is funded in full, appropriations for military operations and other war-related activities in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere in the war on terrorism will rise to $188 billion this year and to a cumulative total of $752 billion since 2001." But as Media Matters previously documented, emergency supplemental spending bills helped to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in fiscal years 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004, and 2003. In its 2006 report, the Iraq Study Group criticized this budget procedure, wherein "funding requests are drawn up outside the normal budget process" and "are not offset by budgetary reductions elsewhere," asserting that it "erodes budget discipline and accountability."

Further contributing to the national debt are the Bush tax cuts. According to a recent analysis by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), based on Joint Committee on Taxation and Congressional Budget Office estimates: "Through fiscal year 2007 tax legislation enacted since 2001 has had a direct cost of $1.3 trillion." The CBPP analysis continued, "Because these tax cuts were not paid for, they are also generating substantial increases in the national debt. The additional debt now being built up will persist even if the tax cuts are allowed to expire on schedule."

From the April 1 edition of the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric:

COURIC: It's time, I'm afraid, for yet another sign that the housing industry is in a slump. The government reported today that home construction fell again in February. That makes 24 straight months of declines.

As the economy slows, tax revenues fall, and the country slides deeper and deeper into debt. The national debt is expected to reach $10 trillion next year, which means it will have nearly doubled this decade.

From the government to corporations to you and me, we're a nation in debt. Beginning tonight, we'll look at how and why we got that way in a special series, "Life and Debt in America." Here's Anthony Mason.

[begin video clip]

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have a projected stopout at 3.62.

MASON: This hushed computer room in an undisclosed location --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a cover of 2.34.

MASON: -- is the control room of the American debt machine.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: [unintelligible] has one bid totaling $5 million.

MASON: You're entering the auction room of the Treasury Department's Bureau of Public Debt, and this is the first time a TV camera has ever been allowed inside.

ANTHONY RYAN (assistant secretary of the Treasury): What all of these people are doing is they're monitoring all the bidding that's coming in from all of the different dealers.

MASON: This is where the U.S. government raises the money it needs to pay its bills. In other words, you're watching the world's biggest borrower flash its credit card.

This is an awfully sedate room, but there's real money at stake here.

RYAN: There is real money at stake. Today we're auctioning off $13 billion of treasury 10-year notes.

MASON: Treasury notes are basically IOUs that the government pays back with interest. In this auction, that amounts to a $13 billion loan. Without that money -- and a few of these auctions every week -- the government would shut down. Debt is now this nation's lifeblood.

So who's buying this debt?

RYAN: Well, a lot of people.

MASON: Pension funds, mutual funds, individuals, institutions and foreign governments compete to buy U.S. treasuries by offering the cheapest interest rate.

You're trying to get the lowest interest rate for the U.S. government?

RYAN: That's right.

MASON: How much money passes through here every year?

RYAN: Approximately $4 trillion.

MASON: That's nearly half of what America owes the world, now a mind-numbing $9.3 trillion.

There was a time when all the cash the United States government needed for its daily operations was kept in this Treasury Department vault across the street from the White House. But there isn't a safe in the world big enough to do that anymore, because the national debt is growing a million dollars a minute.

SEN. TOM COBURN (R-OK): It's $31,027 per American.

MASON: Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn.

COBURN: We have great risk that we're going to become a mediocre country that's in debt, and we're going to handcuff and put a millstone around the next two generations because we won't act like adults now.

CHARLES WHEELAN (author of Naked Economics: Undressing the Dismal Science [Norton, 2002]): I think the concern about the national debt is what we're doing with it.

MASON: Last year alone, the U.S. spent $430 billion just on interest payments, nearly as much as we spent on education.

WHEELAN: Albert Einstein called compound interest one of the great wonders of the world. It adds up really fast. And I'm not sure we fully appreciate, either on the public level or on the private level, how quickly you can get in borrowing trouble.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: One minute to go.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Looks like they're going to try and take it low.

MASON: The heavy bidding in the auction shows U.S. debt is still highly desirable.

RYAN: We've never defaulted and we've always paid interest on time, and we've always repaid principal.

MASON: But some see a day of reckoning approaching, when the world loses faith in the free-spending U.S. economy, when the U.S. finally sinks under the weight of its own debt.

WHEELAN: Is this the most likely scenario? No. Is it something we should be planning for? Absolutely.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There will be no more bidding in today's 10-year treasury notes securities. Thank you.

[end video clip]

MASON: The Treasury's auction room is kept secret, because any disruption would send shock waves through the world financial markets. In fact, during every debt auction, two backup rooms in New York and West Virginia are always on standby -- Katie.

COURIC: And that debt is mind-numbing.

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Katie Couric
CBS Evening News
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