Media Buzz

Why the media adore a budget deal that accomplishes so little

Rep. Ryan, Sen. Murray speak out


Turns out nobody likes this budget deal except the press, which loves bipartisan agreements, no matter how puny.

The tone of the coverage is as follows: Finally, they’re acting like grownups. Finally, a return to “regular order” (a legislative term no one cares about but which means doing a budget for a year rather than these endless stopgap measures). Finally, both sides have agreed to compromise. Finally, no danger of a government shutdown.

All true.

But let’s not get carried away: the agreement accomplishes very little. Maybe journalists are just relieved they don’t have to work over the Christmas holidays on another up-to-the-brink budget mess.

Paul Ryan and his Senate counterpart, Patty Murray, will bask in favorable coverage, and it’s probably true that a small deal was the only deal they could get.

But given the magnitude of our financial problems and the huge size of the deficit, it really is minor news.

The agreement eliminates about $63 billion in those automatic sequester cuts for domestic and defense programs, so is hardly a triumph of limited government. It slices the deficit by $20 billion or so over a decade, which is basically a rounding error. It brings in a trickle of new revenue by raising the airline ticket tax without calling it a tax hike. And it does nothing to extend long-term unemployment benefits.

Exciting, huh?

Here are approving pieces from the left and right, starting with the New Republic’s Jonathan Cohn:

“Sanity is creeping back into Washington, ever so slowly and ever so modestly. Budget brinkmanship has been terrible for the economy and, perhaps, even worse for faith in the ability of lawmakers to do their jobs. Responsibility for this lies overwhelmingly with the Republicans, for making the extreme—if ultimately futile—demands that produced a series of crises and shut down the government two months ago. Some Republicans aren’t ready to give up that approach to governing, and they still have the support of groups like Heritage Action. But they may lack the power to block a deal—for the moment, anyway.”

Weekly Standard Editor Bill Kristol pronounces it “a good deal for conservatives and Republicans.”

He admits that “the deal is a modest achievement—which is all that can be expected, given the unfortunate fact that Barack Obama is president and Democrats control the Senate. The trade-off in the deal of minor mandatory cuts for relatively small domestic discretionary increases is basically a wash. That leaves the defense increase, which, while insufficient, is an important step in the right direction. That alone would make the deal worthwhile. But the restoration of the normal appropriations process will also have a good effect, allowing Republicans to argue for reforms and articulate priorities in several domestic policy areas, rather than being the party of a mindless sequester that does little to cut spending, nothing to advance conservative ideas, and discourages efforts at reform.”

But more partisan voices are ripping the agreement, which is rather predictable given the modest results. The Huffington Post’s banner headline blared “GOP Grinches Steal Safety Net”—this a reference to the failure to approve jobless benefits for 4 million long-term unemployed people.

John Boehner came under fire from such groups as Heritage Action and Club for Growth, and hit back hard.

“They’re using our members and they’re using the American people for their own goals,” Boehner told reporters. “This is ridiculous. Listen, if you’re for more deficit reduction, you’re for this agreement.”

Politico has the first positive look at the Republicans’ 2012 VP nominee:

“In abandoning his years-long quest to re-imagine American society and settling for a bipartisan deal, the Wisconsin Republican took the first steps to emerge as a House power center — a Republican willing to take baby steps to curb the nation’s trillions in debt, normalize the budget process and protect a Pentagon pilloried by cuts.”

National Review’s response? Its lead story yesterday—“A Firm Step Forward”--was a piece BY Paul Ryan.

And once the votes are in, the Hill is basically calling it quits. The House adjourns tomorrow for the rest of the year. Nice work if you can get it.

New Kid on the Page

The Washington Post has a new monthly columnist, and it's...MSNBC's Rachel Maddow. In her maiden effort on presidential successions, she invokes Hillary and says "the Beltway press may be overstating her inevitability."

Correction of the Week

The award goes to the Huffington Post:

“CORRECTION: A previous version of this article referred incorrectly to Hawaii as an independent country.”

Hey, it’s hard to keep track of all 50. 

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Howard Kurtz is a Fox News analyst and the host of "MediaBuzz" (Sundays 11 a.m.). He is the author of five books and is based in Washington. Follow him at @HowardKurtz. Click here for more information on Howard Kurtz.