Joe Biden is trying to spend a lot, and for good reason. The COVID-19 pandemic has killed hundreds of thousands of Americans while also wrecking the economy and destroying livelihoods. People need help. The entire country needs help. The $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan was just the beginning. Massive spending is necessary to fix the problems COVID-19 caused as well as problems that existed well before the pandemic.
But as ABC News’ Jonathan Karl sees it, Biden is ramming through unprecedented government expansion.
Candidate Biden suggested he would be a moderate, transitional president. Nearly three months in, President Biden has blazed a different path, aiming to be a transformational president – using his narrow majority to ram through the biggest expansion of government since LBJ. https://t.co/XgkLse7IRu
— Jonathan Karl (@jonkarl) April 11, 2021
Karl’s tweet is a lead-in to his segment on ABC’s This Week about Biden’s early presidency. But he’s a veteran broadcast journalist—he knows exactly what he’s doing by framing it that way. Many journalists often employ this kind of phrasing often to make their analysis or reporting seem even-handed. But in reality it makes Biden seem irresponsible, as if he’s wantonly using a slim Senate majority to facilitate enormous spending. It’s an inherently conservative framing that paints any kind of government spending as bad.
Still, in fairness, Karl is partially correct—just not for the reason he implies. Biden has deviated from his promise to serve as a moderating force working across the aisle of a divided Congress. Democrats passed the American Rescue Plan with no Republican support. The same will happen with other major spending legislation too, whether it’s infrastructure or voting rights or student debt relief. But everyone knew this was how things would go. Biden has repeatedly stated and indicated his desire to work with Republicans even when he doesn’t have to. Republicans’ staunch opposition to virtually everything Biden does is this why this “ram through” is happening. Even Noam Chomsky agrees.
— Ryan Grim (@ryangrim) April 10, 2021
Karl’s phrasing also doesn’t fully represent Biden’s spending. The president has been downright typical with regard to foreign policy and military spending. His administration recently proposed a $20 billion increase to the Pentagon’s budget. Military spending typically doesn’t fall into the “government expansion” category because it’s expected, regardless of the president’s party or politics. But it’s downright moderate if you ask anyone reasonable.
Ultimately, this is pretty typical major media news coverage. Journalists will continue framing things conservatively, especially anything that threatens to increase the deficit or includes the words “billion” or “trillion” in it. The right is simply better at hijacking media narratives (like the border crisis) and, like it or not, that phrasing slips in. But framing only works if you let it.