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Bozell's News Column - 11/26/1997 - Spendthrift GOP? Blame Them - and the Media

Spendthrift GOP? Blame Them - and the Media
by L. Brent Bozell III
November 26, 1997

Stephen Moore of the Cato Institute shouldn't expect too many invitations to congressional receptions. Moore, one of those invaluable wonks who devotes his life to actually burrowing through the hundreds of pages of one the nation's least-read books - "Budget of the United States Government" - has taken on the Republican Congress with an uncomfortable statistic: "In their first three budgets (FY 96-98), the Republicans have increased domestic spending by $183 billion compared to a $155 billion increase in the three years prior to control of Congress."

House Appropriations Chairman Bob Livingston cried foul in a letter to Republican colleagues, claiming Moore "makes selective use of facts in order to support the premise that the Republican budget revolution failed." But in response to that letter, Moore includes a long list of backsliding GOP failures: Americorps spending up, public broadcasting up, fuel assistance up, World Bank funding up, Legal Services Corporation up, EPA up, Education Department up, Commerce Department up, even, despite hearings on abuse of taxpayers, IRS spending, up.

There is no revolution, never has been. Livingston kept most of his committee's Democratic staff, and his subcommittee chairmen never seem to investigate wastrels like public broadcasting. They just increase their budgets without any significant oversight. Livingston claimed there's only so much Republicans can do with Clinton in the White House. "This is absolutely untrue," Moore responded. "Domestic discretionary spending is the one thing Bill Clinton has absolutely no control over. It is Congress that has the power of the purse. This is, after all, the line that Republicans made throughout the Reagan years when Democrats appropriated huge increases in federal spending....it is not that Republicans cannot cut the budget, it is that they will not."

The truth hurts, but unfortunately, the truth is hardly the crucial issue in budget politics. Moore's vigilant calculations will hold sway with conservative gearheads from coast to coast, but what about the majority of Americans who speedily walk away from discussions of the differences between authorizations and expenditures? The national media's budget storyline doesn't fuss over the budget like accountants . Have you ever seen a newscast announce the overall size of this year's federal budget versus last year's? No. Instead, the budget is merely a canvas for impressionistic portraits of the cruelty of conservative plans for spending "cuts" that never seem to materialize. Some examples of the media's tub-thumping for spending cut victims:

* After Congress passed a law limiting food stamp eligibility for immigrants, CBS devoted an "Evening News" story to the new imported GOP victims. Reporter Sharyl Attkisson focused her story on Russian immigrant Moises Sapiro, who doesn't work and can't speak English and relies on $15 a month of food stamps "to help him survive in America." After a perfunctory GOP rebuttal, Attkisson visited a church deacon who fretted over his ability to feed the expected onslaught of hungry immigrants: "It's too soon to know how many will be looking for new help. But food banks across the country run by charities are already strained...for those who are seeing their grocery money slashed, there's a real anxiety about where they'll get their next meal."

* CBS reporter Martha Teichner warned of the Hun invasion of the National Endowment of the Arts: "What we've seen so far this year has been the roughest bout yet in what has become an annual congressional blood sport." (As opposed to body-piercing and blood-letting at the Walker Art Gallery in Minneapolis, your tax dollars at work.) After noting "conservative House Republicans" voted to defund the NEA, but the Senate would "save" it, she noted "when the House and Senate finally hammer out a compromise, conservatives will likely try to take another whack at NEA funding."

This summer, Los Angeles Times reporter Melissa Healy strove to inform readers that state-run workfare programs are completely inhumane. Out of her 41-paragraph article, she allowed conservative Republicans merely four paragraphs, with only one quote defending the program. Healy devoted the remaining space to the complaints of workfare participants and welfare statists that workfare is "slavery" or "indentured servitude." The solution, suggested Healy? Paying minimum wage to workfare recipients isn't enough - let's get them unionized and really bust the budget!

As long as there are conservatives in Washington even half-heartedly threatening to brake the never-ending federal spending juggernaut, the national media's parade of pathetic potential victims will continue. Some in the Republican Party seem happy to go along with the charade. And documenting the reality that follows - ever-increasing billions of budget backsliding that make a joke of obsolescent "Republican revolution" rhetoric - will continue to be the depressing, underpublicized work of economists like Stephen Moore.