You Can Lead A Reporter to Water, But You Can’t Make Him Call It A Spending Increase

They just can’t help themselves! In a live Q&A session today, a reader asked Washington Post Congressional reporter Paul Kane a question that’s been on our minds for days now. “I keep hearing the term ‘budget cuts,’ but the defense budget isn’t being cut at all,” the reader writes. “Money is being redirected to other defense priorities, but the overall budget is increasing by 4%…. So why is it that certain pols are allowed to spout this inane lie with impunity.”

Kane didn’t respond to that question, but he did explain that Gates is trying to spend money more wisely…albeit amid a four percent budget cut that’s not actually happening.

If I spend $100,000 a year, and I spend it on a whole bunch of garbage — CDs from stupid American Idol contestants, trips to Atlantic City, etc. — it’s a whole lot better for me if I reorient my budget to spend my money on a downpayment for a new house at a cutrate deal, as well as Springsteen CDs (instead of Idol folks) and trips of value to see friends and family. I might still spend $96,000, but I’ve spent it a lot more wisely.

That’s what Gates is trying to do.

Ummm. Ok. I’m as big a Springsteen fan as anybody. But if we’re sticking with this analogy, then the idea is that Gates is buying so many Springsteen CDs this year that he’s actually increasing his annual spending to $104,000. A four percent growth, as the reader noted. At about $20 a pop, that’s a lot of copies of Nebraska–which may or may not be worth it, but, to quote Kane, that’s what Gates is trying to do.

Late update: Not to pile on Paul Kane here, but I want to highlight an exchange that occurred earlier in the web chat. The same questioner I quoted above initially asked his or her question a little bit differently: “I keep hearing the GOP gasbags and their media enablers decrying those HUGE defense budget cuts. But I’d like to echo Jon Stewart, ‘On what planet is a four percent spending increase a huge cut?!?'”

Kane dismissed this out of hand: “your entire premise is wrong.”

This is not at all a partisan issue. You have to understand this is a totally parochial issue, for Dems and Rs. You’ll see Dems on the Hill going to the mat to save their defense programs just as much as the Rs. In fact, given their ties to the president, the stakes will be higher for congressional Dems to save their defense projects.

In fact, the premise of the question is perfectly legitimate. And Kane’s response is a perfectly legitimate response…to an entirely different, and unasked, question.

If you take a look back at our coverage of this skirmish, you’ll notice the two phenomena–the one described by the questioner, and the one Kane alludes to in his answer–overlap each other. Democrats and Republicans alike are criticizing Gates for threatening to kill programs in their districts, but, for the most part, only Republicans are mischaracterizing the entire plan at the same time.

Take a look for yourself, if you like. It’s a pretty striking pattern. You’ll find plenty of Democrats–from Blue Dogs to Chris Dodd–criticizing particular cuts. But almost none of them are construing the Gates plan as an overall soft-on-defense spending cut. That effort belongs to Republicans–and they’ve enjoyed plenty of help in the last couple days from the mainstream media.

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