- The Washington Times - Friday, February 7, 2003

Citing weekend interviews with administration officials, The Washington Post reported on its front page Monday, the day the White House released its budget, that President Bush planned to "lavishly fund the military." In the first place, it's hard to believe that administration officials characterize any funding increase for national defense in that fashion even if it were true. In the second place, once the official budget documents were released and it became abundantly clear to anyone who could count that the administration had in no way "lavishly fund[ed] the military" one would think that The Post would then get it right.
But on Tuesday, The Post's front-page budget story had this headline: "Budget Sharply Boosts Defense; Record Deficits Loom as Domestic Programs Slow." Its first paragraph declared that the president's spending plan "calls for a steep increase in defense spending" and "an overall freeze on money for domestic programs across the government." In an effort to make its point, The Post's second paragraph reported the president's budget would "devote to national defense 60 percent of the $28 billion increase the White House envisions" and here is where The Post further obfuscates the issue "in the parts of federal spending that are set each year."
Apparently having been exposed to the same fictitious budget that The Post evidently reviewed, the New York Times reported Tuesday on its front page that Mr. Bush's proposed $380 billion defense budget represented "an increase of 4.2 percent beyond what was already the biggest military buildup since the administration of Ronald Reagan." The editorial page of the Times echoed that true-but-meaningless point. "The president's budget," the editorial page intoned, "offers the nation the biggest military buildup since the cold-war years of Ronald Reagan."
With the Blue Chip consensus forecasting an inflation rate of 2.2 percent for 2003, it is overstated for The Post to describe a 4.2 percent spending increase in Department of Defense budget authority for fiscal 2004 as a "steep increase in defense spending" that "lavishly fund the military." At the same time, it also is unsupportable to declare that a 2004 spending increase of 3.8 percent for non-defense and non-homeland security discretionary budget authority as "an overall freeze on money for domestic programs across government."
As for the Times' equally zany comparison of Mr. Bush's "military buildup" to Mr. Reagan's, two facts need to be noted. First, military outlays under the Gipper peaked at 6.2 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) in 1986, having risen from 4.6 percent in 1979. Second, defense outlays are projected to peak under Mr. Bush in 2004 at 3.5 percent of GDP. That's up from 3 percent in 2001; but it's higher than the 3.3 percent expected to prevail in 2008. Some "buildup." (During the pre-Vietnam Kennedy administration, defense outlays averaged 9 percent of GDP.)
For obvious reasons, The Post wants only to look at discretionary spending or what The Post refers to as "the parts of federal spending that are set each year." This conveniently allows its reporters and editors to effectively ignore the elephantine "mandatory" social programs such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, whose budgets are not "set each year." Thus, The Post's front-page budget story on Tuesday didn't get around to mentioning until the 21st paragraph (the third from the bottom) the president's proposal to spend $400 billion over 10 years to reform Medicare and provide prescription-drug coverage for the elderly. This is on top of the $291 billion increase in Medicare spending (or an average annual increase of $58.2 billion) for the 2004-08 period. Meanwhile, federal spending for Medicaid (the joint federal/state health care program for the poor) and the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) will increase by 10.8 percent in 2004. That represents an increase of $18 billion, which is more than the increase in defense spending. Under Mr. Bush's ongoing "military buildup," defense spending will rise by 22 percent through 2008. Federal spending for Medicaid/SCHIP will increase by 52 percent.
We thought you deserved to know.

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