Washington Post Misinforms Readers About Deficit

Dave Johnson

The job of the news media is supposed to be to inform, not misinform. But Tuesday’s Washington Post story, Obama team points to smaller deficit numbers, makes this claim about the cause of the huge $1.4 trillion budget deficit for FY 2009.

The federal deficit was large when Obama took office, but it ballooned as the administration launched an ambitious stimulus program to soften the economic downturn, which was eating tax revenue and prompting increased spending on safety net programs.

But this just isn’t the case, and it is vitally important that the public understand the real facts so they can make decisions about solutions. The New York Times, The Washington Post’s competitor, offered a more honest explanation of the cause of the massive deficits, and even included a great chart. In last year’s How Trillion-Dollar Deficits Were Created the Times pointed out that only $145 billion of the huge $1.4 trillion 2009 deficit was spending on the stimulus program and only another $56 billion was from other Obama programs. This is a fraction of that $1.4 trillion deficit of Bush’s last budget year. Obama did not “balloon” the deficit, as the Washington Post claimed.

In Huge 2009 Budget Deficit — Just One More Conservative Failure, I wrote,

Conservatives claim that President Obama “tripled the deficit” and point to the huge 2009 budget deficit as proof. The fiscal-year 2009 deficit, as reported in October was, indeed, about triple the prior year’s borrowing. But the 2009 budget was the last budget year of the prior, conservative administration. It is just one more demonstration of the failure of conservative policies.

Basic math: A budget year that ends 8 months into a President’s first year wasn’t that President’s budget.

That post used material from the conservative Cato Institute to back up the point.

The public needs to know the real causes of the borrowing. If the cause was previous conservative policies, that leads to one set of solutions. If the public instead is led to believe the borrowing was caused by the incoming administration’s efforts to solve that problem, they will be misled into possibly supporting policies that will just make the problem worse.

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