MEDIA WATCH: Critics attack Bush's budget for prioritizing military too much

Fresh on the heels of his pitch to end the double taxation of dividends in his State of the Union address, President Bush submitted his budget proposal of $2.229 trillion, which includes a projected deficit of $307 billion.

Fresh on the heels of his pitch to end the double taxation of dividends in his State of the Union address, President Bush submitted his budget proposal of $2.229 trillion, which includes a projected deficit of $307 billion.

What the media noticed right away, even more than the record deficit, was how heavily the discretionary spending was earmarked for national security and anti-terrorism efforts, especially for the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security. The Baltimore Sun (February 4) labeled the proposal "the largest increase in military spending in a generation." The Detroit Free Press (February 4) described the budget proposal as one of "a wartime government, one driven to combat perils abroad and at home, but with no time for peacetime luxuries such as a balanced budget." However, while heavy spending was tilted toward security and defense programs, it was widely noted that the budget doesn't include any money for a war in Iraq, which prompted criticism that the deficit would have to go even higher. Although Bush aides explained that this was because no decision had been made to go to war as of yet, critics blasted the budget for not even allocating any money for the buildup that's going on now, regardless of whether there is a war or not. The budget also prompted much criticism for proposing a record deficit. Many stories stated the deficit would be the largest ever, but fewer stories conveyed the Bush administration's clarification that the budget is small compared to the overall economy, and that it isn't the largest deficit ever as a percent of the total economy. Coverage depicted Democratic leaders as highly critical of Bush's plan, calling it irresponsible and reckless. Senate minority leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) was widely quoted for his remark: "Today's budget confirms that President Bush is leading the most fiscally irresponsible administration in history" (Chicago Tribune, February 4). Democrats denounced the deficits, the lack of founding for domestic programs, and the disproportional benefits that Bush's stimulus plan would offer to the wealthy. Proponents of Bush's plan argued that the deficit reflected the President having to make some tough choices in order to stimulate a slumping economy, and deal with a war that was not of our choosing. White House Budget Director Mitch Daniels told reporters, "A balanced budget is a high priority for this administration. It is not the top, let alone the only, priority" (USA Today, February 4). The announcement of the Bush proposal and the ensuing debate about record deficits prompted some reflection in a number of newspapers regarding how quickly the federal government had gone from wondering what to do with its surplus. The LA Times (February 4) observed, "The combination of Bush's big tax cuts, defense and homeland security buildups, the recession, the stock market crash, and a sluggish recovery have produced one of the sharpest swings of the fiscal pendulum ever." A few articles acknowledged that what the President's budget proposal amounts to is really balancing priorities. Bush presented himself as being concerned about the deficit and as someone who would have preferred not to have one, but that would be in an ideal situation. Instead, he has to react to the realities that America is facing. Even so, the bill will very likely be amended before Congress approves it.
  • Evaluation and analysis by CARMA International. Media Watch can be found at www.carma.com.

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