The convention in mainstream journalism is that the new stories give you the facts, and the columnists give you their opinions (hopefully backed by facts). But in the coverage over the debt ceiling and budget debates sometimes you're better off heading straight to the columns. Today offers a good example. In the Washington Post (7/15/11), Ezra Klein lays out the political dynamic that is rarely explained. As Klein writes, the White House has decided to
offer Republicans a deal that is not only much farther to the right than anyone had predicted, but also much farther to the right than most realize. In addition to the rise in the Medicare eligibility age and the cuts to Social Security and the minimal amount of revenue, it would cut discretionary spending by $1.2 trillion, which is an absolutely massive attack on that category of spending.
President Obama has made it clear that he's willing to sign on to a deficit-reduction deal that consists overwhelmingly of spending cuts, and includes draconian cuts in key social programs, up to and including a rise in the age of Medicare eligibility. These are extraordinary concessions. As the Times's Nate Silver points out, the president has offered deals that are far to the right of what the average American voter prefers –in fact, if anything, they're a bit to the right of what the average Republican voter prefers!
The conventional coverage–which pits Obama's offer against Republican intransigence–tends to gloss over these facts. The front-page article in the Times today by Jackie Calmes explains the debate as being between Obama's desire to raise taxes on the wealthy and cut the deficit, while Republicans prefer "smaller government" and lower taxes. It quotes Sen. John McCain saying that the "president keeps talking about spending more money"–with no explanation that Obama is actually proposing to reduce non-security domestic federal spending as a percentage of GDP to its lowest level in 50 years.
These are the limits in the media debate. The fact that the public would seem to prefer an entirely different type of budget deal is a non-factor. The fact that such plans exist–the People's Budget of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, for instance–is all but ignored by the corporate media. Senate Democrats have floated a similar plan. A competent press corps would cover these proposals, if only for the sake of telling citizens that such options are available–that reducing the long-term deficit is possible without slashing spending on programs that people support.
But the media would much prefer a budget debate that pits Obama's Republican-leaning plan against the Republicans who oppose that plan.