“Deficit Reduction Blindness” Syndrome Plaguing New York Times

Bill Scher

There’s a strange affliction impairing several New York Times reporters, Deficit Reduction Blindness. The syndrome blocks your ability to see a government reduce a budget deficit without also seeing massive pain inflicted upon its people.

Reporters with DRB can easily spot deficit reduction when it involves shredding Social Security and slashing Medicare. In milder forms, they can sometimes see deficit reduction when it involves raising taxes, though not on multimillionaires or their heirs. But in all cases, DRB victims are unable to see the deficit reduced when people are actually helped at the same time.

Such as when the President and Congress enacted health reform, slashing the projected deficit by more than $1 trillion over the next two decades, perhaps the biggest deficit reduction act in history.

Or when the House passed a comprehensive clean energy jobs and climate protection bill, which generates billions in revenue by making companies pay for polluting the atmosphere with greenhouse gases, lowers energy prices for the poorest families, and cuts the deficit by $9 billion.

The latest DRB victim at the New York Times appears to be John Harwood, who writes today:

For his first 15 months, Mr. Obama has pounded away at four domestic initiatives. All four — economic stimulus, health care, Wall Street regulations and energy policy — reflected priorities of important Democratic constituencies. The next phase, which Mr. Obama set in motion by appointing a bipartisan panel on reducing the nation’s debt, will not. Instead of extending government benefits (through federal stimulus aid and health insurance coverage), Chapter 2 will revolve around budget austerity.

Because of DRB, Harwood holds the distorted view that solving the health care and energy crises amounts to a costly giveaway to “Democratic constituencies,” and only now that “long-term entitlement overhaul” is on the table proves the White House is serious about fiscal responsibility.

Harwood is unable to see that “Chapter 1″ was already about reducing the deficit by reforming our broken, wasteful health care and energy systems.

Moreover, as economist Mark Thoma, among others, has previously noted: “The growth in health care costs is the [debt] problem in the long-run, nothing else matters much in comparison.” The President and Congress have taken the first big step to rein in those costs. To the extent that more needs to done to ensure a sound fiscal footing, it is further refining of the health care reform law, not a crude slashing of Medicare and Social Security.

Harwood is not Patient Zero at the New York Times. He is not the first reporter there to be blinded to the fiscal facts.

As I have written previously, reporter Peter Baker was rendered incapable of factually countering the misleading statement he solicited from former GOP congressperson Bob Walker, accusing the President of losing independent voters by increasing the deficit.

And before that, reporter David Sanger falsely asserted that the size of debt means the President is unable to enact new reform initiatives because of their costs, ignoring the fact that his major initiatives are deficit-cutters.

I’d say we should quarantine the New York Times until the DRB plague subsidies, but it is already a pandemic.

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