A day before the Democratic-controlled House passed the American Rescue Plan with no Republican support, Sinclair Broadcast Group was airing a prerecorded news segment on its local TV stations featuring GOP lawmakers using the national debt to gin up fear about the bill’s passage. The segment included minimal pushback from Democrats and failed to quote any economists, even though it was advancing Republicans’ economic arguments against the bill.
During his report, Sinclair chief political correspondent Scott Thuman asked of the bill, “Is that whopping $1.9 trillion price tag too much and jeopardizing America’s financial future?” To advance that GOP argument, Thuman quoted Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell claiming the bill is “dramatically more money than is required,” and cited an op-ed from former Gov. John Kasich which claimed the “growing debt poses an increasing risk” and is “a bomb that could explode at any time.” (The deaths of more than 514,000 Americans from the ongoing pandemic were not mentioned in the op-ed.) Thuman also aired video of the CEO of a nonprofit that tracks government spending ranting that “we’re blowing out our national debt.”
In contrast to these Republican talking points, many leading progressive economists have explained that President Joe Biden’s proposed spending limit is necessary to meet the challenge of the pandemic.
A letter from the leaders of the National Employment Law Center, the Economic Policy Institute, the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the Center for American Progress, and the Roosevelt Institute states that “President Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan—with its critical public health investments to beat COVID-19, its aid to help struggling families, and its assistance to states, localities, tribes, and territories—is an appropriate scale of new spending under current conditions."
EPI research director Josh Bivens argued that the concerns that the bill might be too large should be ignored: “As background, we should simply note that after a generation of going too-small in providing fiscal support to aid the economy’s growth, a move to erring on the high side would be welcome. But even more importantly, the Biden package almost certainly does not err on the high side of what is needed to support economic recovery in coming years.”
EPI’s Bivens has also argued for using debt to finance COVID-19 relief and recovery. Other economists agree and have explained why it’s affordable. Economist Kyle Anderson from the Kelley School of Business told Scripps Media that “the U.S. government can borrow money at incredibly low rates right now. Basically, negative real yields. So, from that point of view, we can certainly afford it and we can pay it back later, so that is not a problem.” Oxford Economics’ chief U.S. economist, Gregory Daco, also told Scripps Media that the U.S. can afford the bill. CBPP senior fellow Paul N. Van de Water further explained why it’s wrong to use fears over growing national debt to oppose COVID-19 relief and recovery:
Concerns about growing federal debt should not dissuade policymakers from enacting additional measures to respond to COVID-19 and the economic crisis it spurred, such as those President Biden has proposed and Congress is considering. Although the debt is expected to reach new highs even without those measures, federal interest payments — which are the inescapable cost of debt — are low and expected to remain so for several years due to historically low interest rates, according to the latest Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projections.
Today’s low interest rates indicate that rising debt is neither overheating the economy nor crowding out private investment in physical or human capital, which could raise future productivity and incomes. Low rates also suggest that the economy can support a higher debt ratio than was appropriate when borrowing costs were much greater.
Policymakers ultimately will need to address rising deficits and debt. But such concerns should not forestall needed efforts to fight COVID-19, care for those whom it and the recession have harmed, and restore the economy to health.
Yet Thuman’s report, which aired on at least 20 Sinclair-owned or -operated stations in 22 states, according to a transcript search of the Kinetiq video database, failed to cite any economists.
This is not the first time Sinclair Broadcast Group has aired misleading GOP talking points or otherwise reported poorly on COVID-19 relief legislation. Earlier in February, Sinclair’s James Rosen pushed conservative framing that the bill is too large. Last July, Sinclair aired multiple reports which hid the extent to which Republican lawmakers wanted to cut unemployment benefits. Sinclair also uncritically pushed GOP claims that enhanced unemployment benefits were preventing people from returning to work -- instead of the far more likely fear of getting sick and/or dying from COVID-19. And months of Sinclair’s national news coverage of COVID-19 relief negotiations mostly failed to mention that Senate Republicans had blocked a Democratic House bill which passed last May.