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Networks Promote White House Fearmongering on Sequester Cuts, Ignore it Was Obama's Idea

The NBC, ABC, and CBS evening newscasts on Tuesday all recited the same White House talking points as anchors and correspondents wrung their hands over the upcoming sequester budget cuts set to take effect on March 1. While all three broadcasts touted President Obama using "dire language" to warn against the cuts – only amounting to less that three percent of the federal budget – none of them noted that it was the President's idea in the first place. [Listen to the audio]

At the top of NBC Nightly News, anchor Brian Williams sounded the alarm: "Deep impact....deep budget cuts poised to have a major impact on the military, law enforcement, even food inspection." In the report that followed, correspondent John Yang fretted: "Through 2021, it means cutting $85 billion a year, half from the Pentagon, half from non-defense programs. Everything from education to national parks to Meals on Wheels." Yang failed to mention the current annual federal budget is around $3.5 trillion.

After Yang hyped the cuts, an exasperated Williams turned to chief White House correspondent Chuck Todd and proclaimed: "Do you wonder why people are so deeply angry, cynical, and checked out of our politics?"

On ABC's World News, anchor Diane Sawyer touted Obama going after congressional Republicans on the issue: "...the President came out swinging today about the effect on American families when the budget axe falls in less than two weeks....the President likened it to a meat cleaver."

Chief White House correspondent Jonathan Karl actually noted the planned cuts were "less than 3% of the budget," but then continued to parrot administration spin: "...but the White House says virtually everybody will be hurt, and we'll see long lines as TSA agents are furloughed, 1,000 FBI and other law enforcement agents forced off the job, and 70,000 preschoolers dropped from the Head Start program."

To Karl's credit, he put some of the onus on President Obama: "You'd think that would prompt emergency meetings between Congress and the White House, but you'd be wrong." A clip followed of Karl pressing White House press secretary Jay Carney: "Has the President had a single face-to-face meeting with the Republican leaders since January 1st about averting these spending cuts?"

On CBS Evening News, chief White House correspondent Major Garrett highlighted Obama's strategy to blame the GOP for the cuts:

Well, the continued effort by the White House...to apply public pressure on Republicans to relent. This will be done in public through events like we saw today. And it's already been done privately. Top government officials are warning businesses they could be harmed by these looming spending cuts.

Here's one example we've learned of. Last Friday, top officials at the Agriculture Department warned meat and poultry producers that there might not be enough federal inspectors to keep their processing plants open and operating. These warnings are designed to motivate these businesses to plead with Republicans to find another way.

Here is a full transcript of the February 19 Nightly News report:

7:00PM ET TEASE:

BRIAN WILLIAMS: Deep impact. The new fight over money in Washington. Another deadline rapidly approaching along with deep budget cuts poised to have a major impact on the military, law enforcement, even food inspection. And there are big worries about how it will hit the U.S. economy.

7:04PM ET SEGMENT:

WILLIAMS: Well, we're all veterans now of events with names like the debt ceiling deadline, the fiscal cliff, and the next one is barreling down the tracks. It is called the sequester, but it has nothing to do with a jury. And if it isn't stopped, if it's allowed to go through in ten days, huge automatic spending cuts go into effect. The President used some dire language to warn about it today. And tonight, NBC's John Yang explains what this sequester is, and the impact it could have for everyone.

JOHN YANG: With no budget deal in sight and automatic spending cuts just days away, President Obama said today it was the fault of congressional Republicans.

BARACK OBAMA: They haven't come together and done their jobs, and so as a consequence, we've got these automatic, brutal spending cuts.

YANG: Republicans blame the President.

PAUL RYAN [R, HOUSE BUDGET COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN]: The President, back in the last session of Congress, refused to cut spending in any place.

YANG: They're fighting over a sequester, Washington-speak for the $1.2 trillion across-the-board spending cuts that would begin March 1st unless Congress and the President agree on a deficit-cutting package.

ROBERT BIXY [THE CONCORD COALITION EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR]: The problem with it is it doesn't distinguish between wasteful spending and very good spending.

YANG: Through 2021, it means cutting $85 billion a year, half from the Pentagon, half from non-defense programs. Everything from education to national parks to Meals on Wheels. Exempt from the cuts, programs like Social Security and veterans' benefits and student loans.

The administration warns federal food inspectors would be temporarily furloughed. That could mean less product, higher prices, and fewer jobs. Air travelers may see longer lines at security checkpoints. By one congressional estimate, as many as 9,000 TSA officers may have to be laid off.

The Pentagon budget would be cut 11% a year, even as the war in Afghanistan continues. DoD civilian workers will likely take the hit. Plans call for more than 700,000 to take one day off a week without pay, a 20% pay cut. Jason McKenzie owns Ride On Bikes in Columbus, Georgia, home to Fort Benning. Military employees make up half his business, so smaller paychecks could mean fewer sales.

JASON MCKENZIE: It's going to take money out of everybody's pocket, everything's gonna crash. Everybody will stop spending, everybody.

YANG: One of the ripple effects of gridlock in Washington felt far beyond the Beltway. John Yang, NBC News, Chicago.

WILLIAMS: All of this somehow brings us to our political director and chief White House correspondent Chuck Todd. So Chuck, what's going to happen here, and if it does happen and if it's fixed, do you wonder why people are so deeply angry, cynical, and checked out of our politics?

CHUCK TODD: I can understand if viewers tonight think this is Chicken Little all over again. The President holding another event surrounded by people who could see dire effects of a budget compromise. It feels like we've been through this before. "The sky is falling, what are we going to do?"

We don't – we know how this is going to get resolved. These cuts are going to go through on March 1st, probably. The government runs out of funding at the end of March. They'll come up with some compromise deal. Doesn't quite fix things, kind of a band-aid. And then they'll punt something else down the road, and we'll go down this.

What this does is it makes the rest of government a bit dysfunctional. And of course, it builds the cynicism. The one thing I wonder here is we already know that Congress is unpopular. The President is testing the political limits of the public cynicism, which is how much are they going to believe this? Are they going to look up and say, "How often are you going to say this? I'm not – I'm through listening to Washington."

WILLIAMS: Alright. Chuck Todd with the dire forecast to go along with the news we're reporting tonight. Chuck, thanks, as always.