Presidents’ budgets are always dead on arrival in Congress, but some have rigor mortis well before they arrive. As an expression of the thoroughly Trumpized-GOP, President Trump’s budget, released on Monday, is illuminating. As a matter of governance, economics and most other objective indicators, it’s a disaster and, to boot, it’s not even good politics. Indeed, he may have given Democrats a k’iller issue for 2020.
The plan would dramatically expand spending on programs and initiatives popular with Republicans, such as $750 billion in new defense spending and $8.6 billion for barriers on the Mexico border. At the same time, it would slash spending on Medicaid, food stamps, environmental protection and other programs that Democratic presidential candidates vowed to protect and expand.
The budget proposal ran into an immediate buzzsaw on Capitol Hill, where many Democrats flatly rejected it and even some Republicans sought to distance themselves from key details.
The problems fall into four main categories: Entitlement cuts that he swore up and down he’d never make; mindless deep cuts to government agencies that do real work and provide important services; defense spending without strategic rationale; and a complete lack of realism, vision and purpose.
Let’s take entitlements first. He proposes block-granting Medicaid (“a cut of nearly $1.5 trillion in Medicaid over 10 years and for $1.2 trillion to be added for the block grants or per-person caps that would start in 2021. . . . The budget also would eliminate funding for Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act, which has gone to about three dozen states over the past five years”). As for Medicare, the cuts are significant, proposing “to slow spending on Medicare, the federal program that gives health insurance to older Americans, by $845 billion over the next 10 years.”
He can spin it anyway he likes, but this violates a fundamental promise he made to his voters. Democrats have already pounced and will have a ball with “granny over the cliff” ads. Democrats will have Trump on tape promising not to do what he just proposed doing. As bad as all his legal scandals may be, this proposal may be far more damaging since it threatens his own voters In a manner Trump vowed not to try.
While he does include new funding to stop the spread of HIV, he takes more than he gives (“the budget includes an initial installment of $291 million next year targeted to communities where the virus is continuing to infect people not getting proper treatment. . . . However, the spending plan would cut funding for global AIDS programs.”) For all the talk about an opioid emergency, he spends no more than he did last year. (With cuts to Medicaid, however, the source of care for many addicts will be cut.) The most mind-boggling item on the chopping block may be a $4.5 billion cut to the National Institutes of Health “with the National Cancer Institute proposed to absorb the largest chunk of that cut.” I’d love to see how many votes that gets. Oh, and he still wants to repeal the ACA.
This reflects not a desire to cover more people or to provide better service or to lower medical costs substantially but to make cuts so the giant deficits his tax cuts created don’t look so bad. It’s the sort of budget that suggests Republicans are living in another political universe in which people are pining for smaller government. No, they want better government. And this one makes it infinitely worse.
In the second category are 10 percent cuts to core agencies (e.g., Agriculture, State, Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency). This reflects the lack of regard for good governance and the hostility to many of the functions of government (e.g., national parks, Occupational Safety and Health Administration inspections) that most people think are valuable.
“A large portion of the spending reductions are in non-defense discretionary programs, but this spending is not a driver of our growing debt and is already near historic lows as a share of GDP,” says the fiscally conservative Peterson Foundation. “Non-defense discretionary spending includes important investments for the future, such as education, transportation, and research and development. It’s always good to reduce ineffective or unnecessary programs, but these measures will not cure our structural deficits, and are also not politically feasible.” That sounds about right.
Third, while slashing the State Department, Trump drops a load of money — more than asked for — into the Pentagon. (“Trump’s budget gives the Defense Department a nearly 5 percent raise and the Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Homeland Security . . . each get about a 7.5 percent hike.”) But to what end and for what purpose? Is this to make up for the increased defense costs that will result if our allies refuse to pay extortion for the “privilege” of allowing us to forward-deploy troops? If we had a national security strategy, we might be able to assess if all this is necessary. As is, he’s simply throwing more money at the Pentagon the way Republicans have always accused Democrats of doing on domestic spending. And he’s got the nerve to throw in $8.6 billion for his wall.
Finally, the entire budget is a fraud. He’s predicting 3 percent growth with no recessions for another 10 years. That won’t happen, so the end result will be an even more mammoth accumulation of debt. Moreover, there’s no coherent purpose. Infrastructure? Well, the Transportation Department gets a hefty cut. Keeping America the leader in science, research and technology? No, jumbo cuts there as well. He spends on stupid stuff (the wall) and proposes cuts on items we need or that taxpayers want. It’s not a budget that seeks to provide better health care to more people, reduce income inequality, upgrade our workforce or any other constructive purpose. If a budget is supposed to reflect values, this one confirms Trump has none.