As Steve Chaggaris noted in Hotsheet's morning bulletin today, the news that the cuts totaled $17 billion "landed with a bit of a thud" in the media. Reporters stressed that the cuts made up "a tiny fraction" of the total budget and that they would be hard to push through; USA Today noted that the "proposed cuts are about one-fiftieth the size of this year's $787 billion economic stimulus package — all of which was added to the deficit."
In his remarks today, the president sought to change that tenor of that coverage. He mocked the notion that smaller savings are considered "trivial" in Washington and stressed that "these savings, large and small, add up."
And he told journalists directly that they should stress the fact that the cuts are "significant" – a surprisingly direct appeal to reporters concerning which angle they should take in their coverage.
"It is important, though, for all of you, as you're writing up these stories, to recognize that $17 billion taken out of our discretionary, non-defense budget, as well as portions of our defense budget, are significant," he said. "They mean something." (Here's the White House report on the cuts.)
The president is embroiled in a public relations battle over perceptions of his administration's spending against Republicans who have cast him as reckless. Consider this tweet from Sen. John McCain on the cuts: "Obama budget cut of $17 billion is less than 1/2 of 1% of the entire $3.55 trillion FY10 budget - is that change we can believe in?"
As he takes hits from Republicans, the president would rather see journalists stress the enormity of the $17 billion figure – and it's certainly huge when considered in a vacuum – as opposed to the fact that $17 billion looks paltry against the total cost of the budget. Such a direct appeal, however, is rare – and probably won't be particularly effective in light of relentless Republican rhetoric concerning irresponsible spending.