I don’t know how many people still rely on the evening news programs for information about the presidential contest, but Monday night’s “NBC Nightly News” without Brian Williams had stories about a uterus transplant, the British Royals on a ski vacation, and football star Peyton Manning’s retirement. This is what passes for “news.”
As a faithful viewer of at least two evening news programs every night, I notice that the commercials by the Peter G. Peterson Foundation that are frequently appearing during these broadcasts have proven time and again to have more information about a critical public policy issue than the news broadcasts themselves. The ads point out that the $18 trillion national debt is dragging the economy down.
But what will the candidates do about it?
The presidential campaign coverage on the Republican side frequently resembles a reality television show starring Donald J. Trump, who used to have his own reality show. CBS executive chairman and CEO Leslie Moonves says about Trump, “It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS.” He adds, “The money’s rolling in and this is fun.”
He’s talking about revenue from selling commercial time for political ads. Meanwhile, the United States is going broke.
Former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich says that the Fox News Channel is responsible for the success of the Trump campaign. “You can say that Trump is the candidate that ‘Fox & Friends’ invented,” Gingrich said on “Fox & Friends.” He noted that the billionaire sends out a Tweet, and then gets booked on the show for seven minutes. It costs Trump nothing. Other candidates are busy raising money from donors to sponsor a commercial.
Like CBS, Fox News is rolling in money. The Media Daily News noted that one Fox News Republican presidential primary debate with Trump “pulled a Nielsen 16.9 million average viewers,” versus 10 million viewers for a repeat episode of “Big Bang Theory” and 8.7 million for “American Idol.”
Trump is the most unpopular candidate of either party, according to Gallup, but he is still a ratings winner.
Even worse, in terms of ratings, is talking about the United States going bankrupt. That’s just too boring.
The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget is sponsoring an event this Thursday entitled “Scoring the Presidential Tax Plans and Understanding their Fiscal Impacts.” My bet is that the topic won’t be covered. People don’t want to be told their country is going bankrupt and that the candidates have no solutions, other than bankruptcy, massive cuts in spending, or going socialist.
The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget says Trump’s plan would add between $11.7 and $15.1 trillion to the national debt over the next 10 years, including interest.
“I’m not going to cut Social Security like every other Republican and I’m not going to cut Medicare or Medicaid,” Trump says. “Every other Republican is going to cut, and even if they wouldn’t, they don’t know what to do because they don’t know where the money is. I do.”
At the ninth Republican presidential debate in Greenville, South Carolina, Kimberley Strassel of The Wall Street Journal tried to pin Trump down on this matter. Here’s how it went:
Strassel: You have made a lot of promises and you have also—you’re the only candidate who has said he would not touch entitlements. The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget has estimated that your ideas would cost an additional $12 trillion to $15 trillion over the next 10 years and that we would have to have annual economic growth of anywhere from 7.7 percent to 9 percent annually to pay for them. Are you proposing more than you can actually deliver, at least not without big deficits?
Trump: First of all, the—when you say I’m the only candidate, if you listen to the Democrats, they want to do many things to Social Security, and I want to do them on its own merit. You listen to them, what they want to do to Social Security, none of these folks are getting elected, okay, whether they can do it or not. I’m going to save Social Security. I’m going to bring jobs back from China. I’m going to bring jobs back from Mexico and from Japan, where they’re all—every country throughout the world—now Vietnam, that’s the new one.
They are taking our jobs. They are taking our wealth. They are taking our base. And you and I have had this discussion. We’re going to make our economy strong again. I’m lowering taxes. We have $2.5 trillion offshore. We have $2.5 trillion that I think is actually five trillion because the government has no idea when they say $2.5, they have no idea what they’re doing or saying, as they’ve proven very well.
We’re going to bring that money back. You take a look at what happened just this week. China bought the Chicago Stock Exchange, China, a Chinese company. Carrier is moving to Mexico—air conditioning company. Not only the ones I talk about all the time, Nabisco and Ford and—they’re all moving out.
We have an economy that last quarter, G.D.P. didn’t grow. It was flat. We have to make our economy grow again. We’re dying. This country is dying. And our workers are losing their jobs, and you’re going…
Strassel: But in terms of…
Trump: I’m the only one who is going to save Social Security, believe me.
Strassel: Okay. But how would you actually do that? Can I ask you? Because right now, Social Security and Medicare…
Trump: Because you have tremendous waste. I’ll tell you…
Strassel: They take up two-thirds of the federal budget, and they’re growing.
Trump: You have tremendous waste, fraud and abuse. That we’re taking care of. That we’re taking care of. It’s tremendous. We have in Social Security right now thousands and thousands of people that are over 106 years old. Now, you know they don’t exist. They don’t exist. There’s tremendous waste, fraud and abuse, and we’re going to get it. But we’re not going to hurt the people who have been paying into Social Security their whole life and then all of a sudden they’re supposed to get less. We’re bringing our jobs back. We’re going to make our economy great again.
Needless to say, Trump didn’t answer the question. But he’s going to make America great again.
On the Democratic side, the group says that Senator Bernie Sanders’ plans would increase the size of the federal government by about 40 percent. That’s one charge Hillary Clinton has made about the cost of Sanders’s proposals that the committee says is true. “We estimate that all of Sen. Sanders’s proposals would increase government spending by between 36 and 60 percent, which is close to what Sec. Clinton estimated at 40 percent,” it says.
Sanders wants to cut the defense budget to pay for more social spending. But Marc Goldwein, Senior Vice President and Senior Policy Director of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, says defense isn’t what’s driving the debt. “Of the $2.7 trillion increase in spending over the next decade, about $100 billion of that is defense—maybe $150 billion,” he notes. “That means that $2.5 trillion of the $2.7 trillion is not defense. It’s mostly Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and interest on our debt.”
Dr. Tracy C. Miller, an associate professor of economics at Grove City College, told me recently in an interview that the massive federal debt cannot be sustained and will necessitate cuts to popular programs such as Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. “Commitments far exceed what can be raised in taxes,” he says.
This is the truth you won’t find in the media or from the candidates. America is going broke but the media are making tons of money, mostly because of Trump.
Cliff Kincaid is the Director of the AIM Center for Investigative Journalism and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.