MediaWatch: June 1995

Vol. Nine No. 6

Reporters Describe GOP Plans to Increase Spending as "Huge Cuts"

Mangling the Medicare Math

For twenty years, the Washington elites have discussed taxing and spending through the odd prism of baseline budgeting. For example, as Medicare grew 72 percent and Medicaid grew 132 percent from 1989 to 1993, reporters described efforts to stem projected increases as "cuts."

When House and Senate Republicans introduced their plans to balance the budget by 2002, Robert Pear reported in the May 10 New York Times: "Under current law, Medicare would grow about 10 percent a year. Under the assumptions of [Sen. Pete] Domenici's budget, it would grow 7 percent a year, from $178 billion this year to $283 billion in 2002.....and the growth in Medicaid spending would be halved, to five percent a year."

But many reporters still painted a frightening picture of "cuts." CNN reporter Bob Franken announced on May 9: "The House Republican budget bloodletting will infuriate lots of people. Besides the Medicare cuts, Medicaid, the government health plan for the poor, loses $184 billion." USA Today reporter William Welch wrote on May 10 that Domenici's budget would "Make huge cuts in Medicare and Medicaid."

Also on May 10, ABC's John Cochran reported: "Domenici said huge cuts in Medicaid will be offset by savings made if Washington turns the program over to the states." Connie Chung announced on CBS: "Senate Republicans on a key committee geared up to approve one version of a plan to balance the budget. House Republicans voted their version out of committee earlier today. Both call for deep cuts in Medicare and other programs."

Newsweek's Tom Rosenstiel claimed in the May 22 issue that Republicans "would slash funding for...medical care for the poor and elderly." Edwin Chen and Doyle McManus of the Los Angeles Times suggested: "Many members of Congress from both parties -- as well as some independent analysts -- acknowledge that the deep Medicare cuts sought by the GOP would increase costs in the private sector while reducing insurance coverage."

On The MacNeil-Lehrer News Hour, PBS reporter Kwame Holman claimed "In entitlement programs like Medicare, the proposed spending cuts total $270 billion. Medicaid...would be cut by $184 billion." Elizabeth Kolbert explained the political impact in the June 5 New York Times: an American Hospital Association poll found two-thirds backed the GOP when pollsters talked of a "balanced budget," but two-thirds supported Democrats when asked about "cuts in Medicare." That might explain some reporters' mangled mathematics.