Terry H. Schwadron
July 24, 2019
What do you know — a budget compromise among Trump, Republican Congress members and Democrats.
The agreement covers two years, long enough to get through November, 2020. Credit the necessity of avoiding government upset during the election season. Technically, it all still needs Congressional approval, but the opposing leaders have all signed off on the compromise.
Look more closely, however, and you’ll see the continuing divisions between parties.
Had Trump had his way — Trump was named Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin in this case — the deal would have only narrowly allowed the nation’s debt ceiling to increase without an overall agreement on spending, but Speaker Nancy Pelosi told the White House that would not happen.
Then again, Trump wanted about $150 billion less in spending, and was already making noises about budget cuts for next year. The compromise instead adds $320 billion in spending, pushing the annual deficit well over a trillion dollars a year, and more than $22 trillion overall, about a 23% increase since Trump took office. More about that in a moment.
To me, the compromise shows off multiple instances of Washington hypocrisy. You can pick your villain.
The agreement locks in more increases in military spending, and adds more domestic spending, all with few specifics. Those still must be addressed in separate how-to-finance-the-government bills in Congress, a usually contentious guns v. butter showdown that is seen as being made easier with a larger overall budget cap in hand.
So, apparently, we can continue to spend while cutting taxes without threat of government shutdown of the kind we had in January. Apparently, we can have more military parades and have money for detained children at the border or even to ensure, as the White House said, that there is money for the Census to accurately count citizens not using the Census. The money? Just borrow it.
Who could possibly be upset?
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-VT, promises to vote against the budget because it doesn’t block Trump from spending money on a southern border Wall. Deficit hawks like Rep. Mike Johnson, R-LA, who heads the Republican Study Committee, thinks it outrageous that we’re expanding the debt and doing nothing to cut spending.
That last thought, after all, has been Republican orthodoxy for my whole life. Under Barak Obama, who left the annual national debt at $587 billion and the total at $19 trillion, it was a daily Republican chant that Democrats were spending us into hell. Then Trump came along, tossing orthodoxy aside, with plans for an unpaid-for tax cut (and resulting lower tax revenues) and huge increases in military spending that added an extra $2 trillion to the national debt. The White House argues that higher spending and tax cuts have helped the economy grow. When the economy improvements have succeeded in making America Great, they will address spending, they suggest.
So what here is hypocrisy? Number one, Democrats are the devil and do nothing, and the White House will never compromise — until it does. Number two, Republicans stand for budget-cutting or moving federal programs to the states, unless, of course, they don’t. Number 3, paying down the federal debt is a national security issue, as well as a major influence on financial outcomes like inflation, unless it isn’t anymore. Number four, it used to be that debt paid for future investments, like highways, say. Now debt is floating our annual transactions. Any overburdened homeowner can tell you that sounds hinky.
Debt will only become a problem again if a Democrat replaces Trump.
Actually, Trump wanted to raise military spending but still generate cuts of $150 billion a year — eliminating, you know, health costs or public education or food stamps. Instead, the compromise increases spending by twice that amount.
Meanwhile, on the crowded Democratic debate stage, we’re hearing oodles of more domestic spending, including programs like health insurance, climate change deflection, free college tuition and infrastructure projects — all projects for which Republicans insist there is no money. Of course, we’re hearing a need to re-do of the tax systems to increase taxes for corporations and the wealthy. Public debt has disappeared as a major issue for both parties, it seems.
It’s okay by me, so long as we believe that someone reliable in the government has some sense of what we really need to run the ship. The trouble is, with everyone in a position to know kowtowing to a president who prides himself on making decisions based solely on gut, I don’t have that reliance.
What I do see is a whole lot of hypocrisy as well as a president who is continually poking China with tariffs and trade wars that seem to be hurting both the Chinese economy and the U.S. consumer, all for goals that are clear only to Trump himself. This is the same China that is looking for new economic (and real) weapons in the fight and the same China that holds a huge proportion of U.S. debt notes. Hmm.
Something feels out of whack when we hear Trump gushing over our stronger-than-ever economy while there is so much talk about the slowdown and recession around the next corner. Something is odd about setting spending priorities in a way to build growth on spurious projects like a Wall or a Space Force when we have crumbling public classrooms, falling bridges and no money for toothbrushes for detained families at the border.
Here’s the thing: Regardless of ideologies, a political compromise is a wonderful, if rare sign in our government. But a budget is a plan of our priorities. It is difficult to know exactly what we’ve just agreed to in this handshake.