April 13, 2011

When Congressional Fights Make Major News

% of Newshole
Health Care Reform March 22-28 2010 45
Iraq War January 7-12 2007 34
TARP Vote Sept 29-Oct 5 2008 32
Budget Battle April 4-10 2011 29
Stimulus Vote February 9-15 2009 28

4 – Rank of the recent shutdown drama among most covered Beltway battles since January 2007

The looming government shutdown, narrowly avoided by a last-minute compromise on April 8, topped the news the week of April 4-10. With the media closely monitoring the ups and downs of the negotiations and partisans on both sides using the press to convey key positions, attention to the story accounted for 29% of the newshole, according to PEJ’s News Coverage Index.

While that makes it one of the most covered Beltway battles since the NCI began in January 2007, several other Capitol Hill face-offs have generated even more attention.

The No. 1 congressional fight, in terms of coverage, was the March 2010 vote on health care reform after a long and bitter battle. The political showdown may have been at its fiercest during the summer of 2009, when a series of town hall meetings erupted in anger. But after a Republican win in a special Massachusetts Senate election deprived President Obama of 60 Democratic seats in that body, he re-ignited a push for the bill in early 2010. The week that the bill passed, March 22-28, it accounted for a full 45% of the newshole.

The next biggest congressional fight was the only one on the list to involve foreign, rather than domestic policy. On January 4, 2007, a Democratic-controlled Congress, determined to curtail the Iraq war, was sworn in. On January 10, President George W. Bush announced a “surge” of more than 20,000 troops into Iraq. With the battle lines clearly drawn, the fierce debate over Iraq policy filled 34% of the newshole the week of January 7-12. After numerous legislative efforts to try and reduce the U.S. role in Iraq, the president finally prevailed in May 2007 when Congress voted to fund the war without imposing withdrawal timetables.

The third most covered congressional battled revolved around the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) that allowed the U.S. Treasury to buy ‘troubled assets’ from banks amid concerns of a collapse of the financial sector. The measure was controversial and cost an originally estimated $700 billion. (That has subsequently been reduced to $19 billion as many companies paid back the money). After one failed vote, the plan passed with bi-partisan support two days later, accounting for 32% of the newshole the week of September 29 – October 5, 2008.

The No. 5 Capitol Hill fight, in terms of coverage, was the 2009 stimulus vote intended to give a jolt to a staggering economy. The bill, with a price tag of $787 billion, triggered a major partisan battle and passed with no Republican support in the U.S. House and just three GOP moderates supporting the bill in the U.S. Senate. The passage accounted for 28% of the newshole the week of February 9-15, 2009.

Tricia Sartor of PEJ