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Democratic Internet Ad Confuses Fiction and Fact

Animated cartoon claims Bush cuts education funding, but it's really up 58%.

March 24, 2004

Modified: March 30, 2004

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Summary

 

A Democratic National Committee Internet ad falsely states as "fact" that Bush "cuts key education programs by 27%."  Actually, the budget for the Department of Education has grown 58% under Bush, and he's proposing another 5% increase next year, including sizeable increases in spending for children from low-income families and for special education for disabled children.

The ad also falsely claims Bush "slashes job training by 24%." Actually, Bush is proposing to roll most of that money to a new  job-training initiative at 2-year community colleges.

The DNC ad also flunks the logic test, criticizing Bush both for increasing the federal deficit and also for not spending more -- which of course would increase the deficit even more.

Analysis

 

To be sure, the latest Democratic National Committee attack on Bush gets some things right.

Text of DNC Animation:

“Big Bang”

Bush (from July, 2002): We can balance the budget in the year 2005.

Announcer: That sounds like a lot of hot air to me. (Huge red balloon inflates, labeled "Bush's $5.2 Trillion Deficit."

Voice: Look out! It’s gonna blow!(Deficit Balloon pops  -- protesters say ‘Boo hoo’)

Announcer: Fact: Bush cuts key education programs by 27%. Fact: Bush slashes job training by 24%.Fact: Bush cuts child care for 365,000 kids. Fact: Bush guts first-responder funds by $800 million dollars. Fact: Bush cuts clean-water funding by nearly 40%.

Stop Bush from ballooning the deficit. Sign the petition now.

DNC Fact

The President really did say in July 2002 -- incredible as it may seem now -- that the federal budget could be in balance by 2005. Instead, the deficit for the current year is estimated to be around half a trillion dollars and deficits are projected for the next 10 years at least.

And the ad isn't far off the mark showing a giant balloon labeled "Bush's $5.2 Trillion Deficit." Officially, the Congressional Budget Office projects the 10-year deficit at just over $2 trillion, but that's too low because by law the CBO must assume that Congress will let a number of popular spending programs and tax cuts expire, which is unrealistic.

Independent analysts from the Brookings Institution and the liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities both figure the deficit will amount to more than $5 trillion over the next 10 years if, among other things, Bush succeeds in making his tax cuts permanent and also gets the increases in military spending that he's said he would seek.

DNC Fiction

But the ad makes a patently false statement when it says Bush "cuts key education programs by 27%." The DNC says that's a reference to Bush asking for Congress to appropriate less than the maximum amount of money Congress authorized for the No Child Left Behind Act, which imposes expensive new requirements on states. But alleged "underfunding" is not a cut from current spending levels. In fact, federal spending for education has soared under Bush, even if it hasn't gone up as much as the DNC would like.

As shown in the chart below, funding for the Department of Education is up 58% in the first three years of Bush's term and is set to rise further under the budget he proposed in January. It's already gone up more under Bush than it did during all of Clinton's eight years, in fact. So where's the "cut?"

Source: Budget of US Government; Fiscal Year 2005, "Historical tables, Table 5.2-Budget Authority by Agency: 1976-2009"

Furthermore, Bush is seeking additional increases -- not cuts -- in "key education programs" next year. His budget calls for a 9.8% increase for programs for low-income children, to $15.2 billion, and a 5.9% increase in funding for special education, to $12.1 billion.

The ad also falsely claims that Bush "slashes job training by 24%." That's a reference to a $318 million reduction being proposed in federal funding for vocational training grants, and it would amount to a 24% cut -- in that particular program. But that's only a part of all federal job-training money. The administration is proposing to move $250 million of those funds out of what it calls outdated high-school shop courses ill-matched to the modern job market -- and into a new "Community College Initiative" to upgrade technical and career training at 2-year colleges. That's a big, controversial change in where job training takes place, but nothing close to a 24% cut in job training overall.

DNC Logic?

The ad comes closer to getting some other details right -- but fails the logic test overall.

It may have a point when it claims 365,000 children will lose child care. The Bush budget itself projects that 200,000 will lose child care -- over the next five years -- if Bush's proposed freeze in child-care funds is approved and continued through 2009. And the liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that the true figure would turn out to be 365,000 children.

The DNC also has at least an argument when it says Bush plans to "gut" funds for emergency fire and police "first responders." Bush is indeed proposing an $805 million reduction, to $3.56 billion, in funds for the Department of Homeland Security's Office for Domestic Preparedness. Whether that 18.4 percent cut would actually eviscerate the program -- "gut" it -- is a debatable matter of opinion.

And it's true as the ad says that the Bush budget would cut funds for the Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Water State Revolving Fund (which funds wastewater treatment plants) by $492 million next year. That's actually a cut of just under 37 percent, which the ad rounds up to "nearly 40 percent" -- but we won't quibble with their aggressive arithmetic on that point.

What's really loopy is the ad's basic logic -- or lack of it. If Bush did as the DNC is suggesting on all the spending programs it mentions, then the $5.2-trillion deficit for which it criticizes him would balloon even larger. Reducing the deficit would require painful sacrifices -- raising taxes or cutting spending or both. That's reality. Maybe there's a reason this ad is a cartoon.

Sources

 

"The President's Agenda for Long-Term Growth & Prosperity: Remarks by the President on the Economy," Birmingham, Alabama 15 July 2002.

Richard Kogan, David Kamin, and Joel Friedman, “Deficit Picture Grimmer than New CBO Projections Suggest” Center on Budget and Policy Priorities 1 Feb 2004.

Alice Rivlin and Isabel Sawhill, “Restoring Fiscal Sanity: How to Balance the Budget” Chapter 1: Growing Deficits and Why They Matter, Brookings Institution Jan 2004.

Budget of the United States Government, Fiscal Year 2005, Analytical Perspectives , Table 24 4. Beneficiary Projections For Major Benefit Programs, Jan 2004: P361.

Budget of United States Government, Fiscal Year 2005, "Historical tables, Table 5.2-Budget Authority by Agency: 1976-2009" Jan 2004.

US Department of Homeland Security, "Budget in Brief, Fiscal Year 2005," Jan 2004: P57.

Budget of the United States Government, Fiscal Year 2005, "Environmental Protection Agency," Jan 2004: P311.

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