CBS and ABC Falsely Describe Medicare Spending Hike as a Cut

President Bush's fiscal 2009 budget proposal calls for a 7.5 percent hike in Defense spending and a 5 percent jump in spending for Medicare and Medicaid, but while CBS anchor Katie Couric on Monday night correctly stated that Pentagon spending would “rise” in the Bush plan, she erroneously asserted “spending on Medicare and Medicaid would go down.” Similarly, while ABC's Martha Raddatz cited the call for an “increase” in DOD's budget, she falsely reported: “Medicare and Medicaid would be cut by almost $200 billion.”

On FNC's Special Report with Brit Hume, reporter James Rosen scolded the sloppy reporting of his journalistic colleagues, specifically how “the New York Times' lead article on the subject referred matter of factly to the 'trimming' of Medicare and Medicaid. In fact, Medicare will continue to see its budget grow, by 5 percent instead of 7.2 percent.”

Raddatz hinted at her distorted logic -- in which a hike greater than inflation is a “cut” just because it's less than a previously project level -- as she cited how “the President's budget slashes billions of dollars in the growth of federal health care programs.” Yes, a reduction in the rate of growth in a program which has been soaring. The Heritage Foundation's Brian Reidl noted Monday that “Medicare spending has leapt by 51 percent over the past four years.”

Couric's short item on the February 4 CBS Evening News:
President Bush did something today that's likely to set off a new battle with Democrats in Congress in his final year in office. He sent them a budget that would, for the first time, see federal spending top $3 trillion, an increase of 6 percent. Military spending next year would rise more than 7 percent, while spending on Medicare and Medicaid would go down. The President projects a deficit of $407 billion for 2009.
Martha Raddatz in her piece on the February 4 World News on ABC:
The President has asked for 7.5 percent increase, to more than $515 billion, to fund the Department of Defense. That does not include full funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which could total $200 billion. Money for homeland security up nearly 7 percent, including a big increase for border security and immigration enforcement. And there is that $145 billion economic stimulus package, which gives tax rebates to millions of Americans.
Then, with “MEDICARE AND MEDICAID Cut by $200 billion” on screen, she insisted:
But there are some losers here. The President's budget slashes billions of dollars in the growth of federal health care programs. Medicare and Medicaid would be cut by almost $200 billion, by freezing reimbursement rates for health care providers and limiting the money hospitals will receive for treating the uninsured. Even with these cuts the deficit would be about $407 billion.
Monday's NBC Nightly News didn't mention the budget proposal.

An excerpt from a Monday posting by the Heritage Foundation's Brian M. Riedl:
....The President's budget request increases total discretionary spending by a generous 4.9 percent. It balances larger increases for defense, homeland security, international programs, and veterans' programs by limiting the growth of domestic discretionary spending to just under 1 percent. Domestic discretionary spending--which has leapt by 48 percent (22 percent after inflation) from 2001 through 2008 -- can certainly afford this near-freeze for one year....

In what has become an annual ritual, the release of the President's budget has been followed by interest groups decrying alleged cuts to social and education spending. The facts do not match the rhetoric.

By any reasonable standard, President Bush is the biggest anti-poverty, health, and education spender in American history. Under President Bush, federal anti-poverty spending has topped 3 percent of GDP for the first time ever. Federal education spending has leapt 9.7 percent annually -- compared to 2 percent annually under President Clinton. Health research and regulation has grown by 9.5 percent annually.

Under the FY 2009 budget request, discretionary education funding would increase an additional 3.5 percent, health research spending would be approximately frozen, and antipoverty spending would increase 4.2 percent. Given how much these programs have already expanded in recent years, the President's proposal is more than sufficient.

The budget addresses Medicare overspending. Medicare spending has leapt by 51 percent over the past four years and is projected to continue growing at unsustainable rates for several decades. The President's proposal would lower Medicare's growth rate to 5 percent....
Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center