There are good ways and bad ways to explain why you’re advocating for changes to the federal budget. A good way is to show that some programs are a bad investment and reducing them would positively affect the budget.
A bad way was demonstrated by Director Mick Mulvaney of the Office of Management and Budget on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on Thursday.
“When you start talking about priorities — the president’s priorities for national defense, homeland security, taking care of veterans, school choice, and that’s what we have — when you start looking at the places that will reduce spending, one of the questions that we asked was, can we really continue to ask a coal miner in West Virginia or a single mom in Detroit to pay for these programs? The answer was no,” Mulvaney said. “We can ask them to pay for defense, and we will. But we can’t continue to ask them to pay for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.”
Just to make clear what he’s arguing: Trump has priorities, as identified. Those priorities cost money. The administration would like to offset that spending with cuts elsewhere. Okay. But then Mulvaney argues that two stereotypical Americans central to Trump’s campaign would agree with certain cuts to assure that Trump’s priorities can be funded.
That’s tricky in the abstract, and simply ridiculous in the particulars.
The idea that a single mother would rather pay for a new aircraft carrier (as Trump has pledged) instead of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting — instead of the financial backer of “Sesame Street” — is utterly ludicrous. In fact, if you asked most Americans whether they’d rather spend billions of dollars on another aircraft carrier (we have more than half of the aircraft carriers in the world) or spend under $500 million — 0.01 percent of the budget — to keep public programming, it’s safe to assume that many people would choose the latter. Especially single mothers. Even some coal miners.
Mulvaney doesn’t really explain why he and his boss will ask these Real Americans to pay for defense and not for public television, just that they will. The closest thing we get to an answer appears to be “because Trump won and that’s what he wants.” Earlier in the program, Mulvaney stated that “folks who voted for the president are getting exactly what they voted for.”
Even if you grant him that, it’s worth remembering that more Americans voted against Trump than for him, and they are not getting what they voted for. (One group of people who probably didn’t generally vote for Trump? Single mothers in Detroit. More women than men opposed Trump nationally and in Michigan, where they preferred Clinton by an 11-point margin. But Detroit in particular was unlikely to support him; it’s more than 80 percent black, and 94 percent of black voters in Michigan voted for someone other than Trump. Ninety-six percent of black women in Michigan supported Hillary Clinton.) To the winner go the spoils, but if your argument for cutting one program is that we can’t ask the poor to pay for this, it’s undermined a bit when you also say, “But we will make them pay for this other thing, too bad.”
Here’s a theoretical question, by way of making the point more obvious. Which would a single mother in Detroit rather fund: “Sesame Street” or Mulvaney’s salary? If we’re asking them to choose between two unequal things, we can rearrange that formula in any way to make our point.
Mulvaney made another bizarre argument when speaking to reporters about the budget Wednesday.
“You can’t drain the swamp and leave all the people in it,” he said, as though the swamp that voters thought they were going to drain was “long-standing government employees who focus on various federal programs” and not “the economy that supports wealthy lobbyists and the revolving door to Congress.” When Trump talked about the “swamp” on the campaign trail, it was about career politicians and lobbyists. When he talked about the swamp during his joint address to Congress, it was about lobbying. His “Contract with the American Voter” used this language to describe what he would do: “Enacts new ethics reforms to drain the swamp and reduce the corrupting influence of special interests on our politics.”
“You can’t drain the swamp and leave all the people in it,” Mulvaney says — and then continues, “So, I guess the first place that comes to mind will be the Environmental Protection Agency.” That’s the first place that came to mind when it came to swamp-draining? The organization that literally works to protect wetlands from pollution?
Remember: The argument for making that coal miner buy more fighter jets is that he presumably voted for Trump and therefore he is “getting exactly what voted for.” That miner also voted to drain the swamp, and Trump has hired half a dozen Goldman Sachs executives to join his administration. Can’t ask that coal miner to pay for public television when there are Goldman employees to hire. When instead that coal miner should be paying for Trump’s trips to his place in Florida, each of which costs millions of dollars.
If Trump knew what single mothers in Detroit wanted, he would have been able to get some of them to vote for him. Arguing that you get to decide what goes in the budget because you won the election is fine. Suggesting that you’d really like to fund “Sesame Street” but that you simply couldn’t ask a poor American to pay for both that and a multibillion-dollar border wall so you made a hard choice, is insincere and condescending.