The facade of the New York Times building

The joke’s on your readers, Grey Lady …

The NYT took advantage of April Fools Day to do budget reporting that provided no information to almost all of its readers. An article on the budget introduced by Paul Ryan, the Republican head of the House Budget Committee, told readers how much the budget proposes to cut over the next decade in dollar terms. Since virtually no one has any idea of how much the government will spend over the next decade, this information is meaningless to almost everyone who reads the New York Times.

The NYT piece told readers:

Mr. Ryan, the House Budget Committee chairman and a possible White House contender in 2016, laid out a budget plan that cuts $5 trillion in spending over the next decade.

Later the piece added:

In his plan, military spending through 2024 would actually rise by $483 billion over the spending caps established in the 2011 Budget Control Act ’consistent with America’s military goals and strategies,’ while nondefense spending at Congress’s annual discretion would be cut by $791 billion below those strict limits.

As with past budget proposals, Mr. Ryan seeks to eliminate the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion, a $792 billion retrenchment, then turn the health care program for the poor into block grants to the states — saving an additional $732 billion over the decade. He would turn food stamps into a block grant program and cap spending, starting in 2020, cutting that program by $125 billion in five years.

Of course only a tiny fraction of NYT readers have any idea what these numbers could imply for their pocket book, in terms of potential tax savings, for the total budget, or for the programs affected.

Had this been written as a real news story, these sections might have read:

“Mr. Ryan, the House Budget Committee chairman and a possible White House contender in 2016, laid out a budget plan that cuts $5 trillion in spending over the next decade. This is 12.3 percent of projected spending or roughly 2.7 percent of projected GDP over this period.

“In his plan, military spending through 2024 would actually rise by $483 billion over the spending caps established in the 2011 Budget Control Act “consistent with America’s military goals and strategies,” while nondefense spending at Congress’s annual discretion would be cut by $791 billion below those strict limits. The increase in defense spending is equal to 7.4 percent of projected spending, while the cut in nondefense spending is 13.0 percent of spending in this category.

“As with past budget proposals, Mr. Ryan seeks to eliminate the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion, a $792 billion retrenchment, then turn the health care program for the poor into block grants to the states — saving an additional $732 billion over the decade.This cuts total federal spending on non-Medicare health programs by 26.0 percent over the 10-year budget period. Since the cuts are phased in, the cuts in 2024 amount to 49.6 percent of projected spending on non-Medicare health programs in that year.

“The cuts to the food stamp amount to 16.4 percent of projected spending on the program. Since Ryan’s proposed cuts are first applied to years after 2019 they amount to 33.3 percent of projected spending on food stamps in these years, reducing total spending by 0.5 percent in these years.”

Dean Baker is co-director of the Center for Economy and Policy Research. He also writes a regular blog, Beat the Press, where this post originally appeared.

Photo by Peter Dutton released under a Creative Commons license.