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Small-business bill passes -- but what's there to say about it?

It's common to hear complaints -- some of them coming from me -- that the media's coverage of legislation is heavy on process stories, outrageous statements and other signposts of political conflict, and light on the underlying substance of the bills. But when you cover something like the small-business lending bill, it's hard not to be sympathetic.

To begin with, this isn't a very exciting piece of legislation. It's a $30 billion lending fund and $12 billion in tax breaks for small businesses. That's a useful additional to our current arsenal of stimulus measures, but it's not a game changer. It's not even something the spectators or the players themselves will necessarily notice. And more to the point, though the bill has languished in the Senate for months and months, most of those underlying facts have remained static. How many times can you say $30 billion lending fund and $12 billion in tax breaks? The only thing changing -- and changing slowly at that -- is the number of Republicans willing to uphold a filibuster.

Meanwhile, here's the president's statement on the legislation. I'll note that he also focuses on procedural criticisms and political conflict.

By Ezra Klein  |  September 17, 2010; 9:00 AM ET
 
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Comments

i have never seen a decent president get a less fair shake for his efforts, than barack obama, and i have never seen such a confluence of events that are out of his control, besiege a president, as i have with president obama, nor have i ever seen so much unforgivingness directed at a president, who is trying hard, and setting a completely decent example for the people of this country.
it doesnt seem to matter how difficult it is to pass legislation, it doesnt matter how much the legislation helps people, he wakes up to an unceasing barrage of harsh, cruel criticism.
if democrats dont look at the candidates out there, and take this as a wakeup call to flood the polling places, and feel a sense of personal accountability to do everything in their power to prevent dangerous candidates from taking office.....then, we will sadly deserve the fate that will befall us.

if we are looking at a scenario where feingold might be in trouble, and o'donnell could possibly win, then we are in some kind of nearly hopeless vortex.
wake up, before it is too late.
find the good, and keep building on it.
it is up to us to save ourselves now.

Posted by: jkaren | September 17, 2010 9:19 AM | Report abuse

saturday, july 15,1944

"it's really a wonder that i havent dropped all my ideals, because they seem so absurd and impossible to carry out. yet i keep them, because in spite of everything i still believe that people are really good at heart. i simply cant build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery and death. i see the world gradually being turned into a wilderness, i hear the ever approaching thunder, which will destroy us too. i can feel the sufferings of millions and yet, if i look up into the heavens , i think that it will all come right, that this cruelty too will end, and that peace and tranquility will return again.
in the meantime, i must uphold my ideals, for perhaps the time will come when i shall be able to carry them out.
yours
anne"

the diary of a young girl
anne frank

Posted by: jkaren | September 17, 2010 9:28 AM | Report abuse

I'm sorry, you're suggesting that the media can't report what's close to a pure PROCESS story?

Is this a joke?

I'm increasingly convinced Beltway media has become so dominated by agenda-driven right-wing communicators that you guys have lost your ability to write stories that fit anything but a right-wing narrative.

Look at this legislation. You recognize that the policy hasn't changed, and it wasn't that complicated to begin with. This is a process story, something the media supposedly loves. The problem, though, is that the process story isn't good for Republicans! The process story leads you to something like: "Republicans use nuclear-powered filibuster to stall for months a relatively small piece of incredibly moderate-to-conservative legislation that would help a core right-wing constituency, until ultimately two Republicans have a crisis of conscience and help it pass."

This is a really easy, really clear story. But the beltway has lost its ability to see facts and stories that don't fit into Fox News' framework.

"Republicans destroying Congress by abusing procedure," isn't a storyline that anyone "objective" is able to tell. Likewise "Republicans screw small business for months for their own political ends" isn't one you can tell, because it isn't Fox News approved. So incredibly straightforward stories like the one about this bill become "hard" to write, because they don't fit into a beltway-approved narrative. They are too shrill, too unbalanced, not objective simply because they interpret the facts through lenses that aren't right-wing colored.

This is Stockholm syndrome--you guys have gotten to the point where you don't even need to be censored anymore, you censor yourselves by genuinely believing a story like this--a freaking PROCESS story with incredibly simple policy--is too hard to write, or somehow not newsworthy. God, it's pathetic.

Posted by: theorajones1 | September 17, 2010 9:52 AM | Report abuse

theorajones1, I think Ezra's saying that normally he thinks that too many journalists write process stories, but is giving them a pass in this case because there's not much more than the process to report.

Posted by: MosBen | September 17, 2010 12:26 PM | Report abuse

Ho hum. A few tens of billions here and a few tens of billions there and pretty soon you're talking real money.

Posted by: bgmma50 | September 17, 2010 2:13 PM | Report abuse

The reason President Obama has highlighted the "procedural criticisms and political conflict" is precisely because of the media's shortcomings as pointed out by Ezra. But I don't have the same sympathy for the media. If they really want to, they have the ability to do both good journalism and increase ratings/circulation by emphasizing substance in a way average Americans understand. This can be done in an entertaining way that will overcome our short attention span, rather than contributing to it. Of course there should be appropriate coverage when outrageous things are said by politicians, as long as it is accompanied by appropriate analysis and information we can use. For example, take Joe Barton's apology to BP for the White House talking them into paying for the oil spill. That's a fact. It should then be reported that if we vote the Republicans back into the majority, Barton will probably become the Chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. How's that for creating some "buzz"?

Posted by: ray20 | September 17, 2010 5:48 PM | Report abuse

Ezra,
If you would read the widely reported story of a US inventor/company that has invented a significantly improved LED lighting application, you would see reporting of the probable loss of manufacturing of the invention to either Mexico or China. Both countries are offering substantial incentives to the inventor/company.

It is reported in that story that the onerous hurdles and months of delay encountered in applying for a loan from the $30 billion fund have precluded this inventor/company from seeking any small business help from the US government.

It was reported the process of applying for the loan requires extensive documentation that is impossible for an innovative small business to accomplish. Projections of long-term future events in a research lab are impossible. It was reported that the inventor had his eureka moment while asleep and awoke to write notes on the wall next to his bed. How is he to comply with loan application requirements that take months to fill out and more months to await a result? Why should he when two countries are offering millions of dollars in incentives?

Maybe you could have investigated some of the experiences small businesses have had with the loan application process and learned that it may be biased towards entrenched businesses and encourage outsourcing of manufacturing to foreign countries.

There, thats not a process story!

Posted by: jimtallcott | September 17, 2010 9:51 PM | Report abuse

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