Mainstream media outlets are beginning their coverage of the budget reconciliation package on the wrong foot, treating objections over spending from the Republican congressional minority with a credibility that ignores the fiscal record of the Trump tax cuts of late 2017.
Part of the problem with this coverage is that the multi-trillion dollar budgetary cost of Republican-led tax cuts is taken as a given, while Democratic proposals to raise taxes on the wealthy and corporations in order to pay for health care and other social services end up being treated more skeptically. But the fact is congressional Republicans themselves historically have had no problem spending money at the same time as they cut taxes, making their present criticisms of Democrats on fiscal issues ring even more hollow.
To be clear, these media outlets often acknowledged the fiscal irresponsibility of the Trump tax cuts at the time — but this makes their current coverage of Republican objections to the infrastructure package even worse: It shows that they know they are dealing with bad-faith arguments, and taking Republican misconduct for granted while putting all of the burden for governing responsibly onto Democrats.
Axios congressional reporter Alayna Treene wrote on Wednesday that “Democrats’ plans to ram through the rest of their priorities through a one-party reconciliation bill could eliminate the goodwill built up between the two sides” from the first infrastructure bill. Furthermore, she wrote that “Republicans are already attacking Democrats over what they describe as ‘reckless’ spending” without noting the obvious partisan double standard of their complaints.
Treene herself said in December 2017, when Republicans were set to pass their tax cut with no Democratic support, that “Republicans need this win” by passing the bill in order to secure a political victory and make up for their failed promise to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. She had also acknowledged that tax cuts during the George W. Bush administration “resulted in higher deficits,” and went on to cover new projections that the Trump tax cuts would also grow the deficit.
On Wednesday, Politico co-congressional bureau chief Burgess Everett published an article titled “GOP prays Sinema and Manchin pare back Dems’ big spending bill,” on Republican hopes that the votes of enough of their members for the initial bipartisan $1.2 trillion infrastructure package would help persuade the two key moderate Democrats not to vote for the full $3.5 trillion budget resolution. The article quoted Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) that “each of them is fiscally responsible and are people of courage. And so I hope they will break on this enormous expansion of government.”
But back in October 2017, Everett co-wrote another article in Politico, “Deficit hawks trampled in GOP tax cut stampede,” which fully acknowledged the combination of Republican fiscal irresponsibility and hypocritical rhetoric: “Conservatives have long railed against the nation’s now-$20 trillion debt. But now that they’re desperate to pass a tax bill, many Republicans’ repulsion to red ink is fading fast.” Furthermore, Everett noted that the party had also “raised the debt ceiling without cuts and spent billions on disaster aid without paying for it.”
ABC News political director Rick Klein also appears to be applying a both-sides slant, treating Republican fiscal irresponsibility as a given — while also dignifying their objections against Democrats spending any money.
On Wednesday, Klein wrote pieces saying that Democrats had put the “House and Senate on the line” with the reconciliation package, and that Republican Senate candidates were “citing heightened concerns over government spending” from the bipartisan infrastructure package alone.
But in 2017, Klein’s basic assumptions seemed to be more glass-half-full for the Republican proposal, under the headline: “Will Trump and Republicans' gamble on tax plan prove a winning hand?” And while Klein also acknowledged the genuine political risks facing Republicans, another piece following passage of the bill described it as a “legislative win” and led with a quote by then-House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI): “Results are going to make this popular.”