That’s Quite a Budget!
by Terry H. Schwadron
Team Trump’s presentation of a federal budget yesterday landed with a thud and some alarm. If the discussion over health care is an example, this proposal will not stand in a Congress that can hardly coalesce around anything.
But, the budget proposal is useful to gauge the administration’s thinking.
There is a lot that is upsetting about the priorities and national well-being reflected in the budget document. It is out of touch with the needs and desires of the country, it is mean-spiritedly biased against the poor and the working poor.
Let’s first focus on a simple question: Is Team Trump being internally consistent?
For example, if you want to be the President who says he wants health care proposals that are aimed at bringing good health to everyone, why would you drop money for the Centers for Disease Control, the CDC, and eliminate programs for training nurses, who are in increasingly short supply, and medical professionals?
If you want to make peace offerings to the nation’s inner cities, why eliminate a community block grant program? If you care about seniors, why cut money for Meals on Wheels?
It seems odd to be proposing a trillion-dollar infrastructure program and eliminating a big chunk of Transportation Department spending at the same time.
Glaringly, if you want a higher profile for U.S. influence and reputation, how does cutting out most foreign aid and support for the United Nations advance that goal? If you want national security, cuts for TSA and the Coast Guard seem out of place.
There are as many examples as there are lines in this budget. This is a victory for no one, and an apparent attempt to create a state that just waves its new, expensive sabers.
In trading $54 billion of investment in jobs, health, training, education, housing, consumer safety and the like for additional new military armaments, it seems to me that you had better be damn sure that the money is needed. It will come as a huge human and national cost to our culture and well-being. As it stands, the proposed increase is bigger than other countries’ defense budgets.
Trust that this is money that will end up in the hands of defense contractors, not our soldiers, airmen and Marines or in vetereans’ health care that will supplement overrun VA hospitals and services.
But if this is your ideology, at least be consistent. Don’t stand there and tell us you care about health — you don’t. Or the environment (minus climate change). Or education via public schools; instead he proposed increases for support of charter schools. Or even the weather — cutting a ton from the agency responsible for hurricane and storm tracking — and FEMA for handling the results.
The ideology of the moment says it is good to be white, wealthy and completely independent of any need to deal with government. That way you, too, can sneer at the poor, the working classes, and government services.
The President, through his budget director, Mike Mulvaney, previously a very conservative congressman from South Carolina, is slashing and burning his way to a new kind of federal government, one not devoted to seeking out and solving any problems outside of national security.
In his comments, Mulvaney made clear that the budget document does provide a consistent approach — that one cannot “drain the swamp” of bureaucracy (this was not that overused phrase’s original meaning by Trump, who had aimed it at stopping the interchange of lobbyists and government workers) without eliminating the workers. Consistency to Mulvaney means that if you want a leaner EPA, you need to denude it of its workers. Indeed, Mulvaney said he relied on Trump’s campaign speeches to turn ideas into numbers.
Every dollar of proposed cutbacks to domestic, diplomatic and international aid programs that Trump makes in the spending plan will go to boost defense and law enforcement funding — including towards building a Wall on the southern border (this is not the Mexican budget!).
There seems to be little thought here about the object of government, the effects out there on the marketplace, on job development, cultural norms, or other practical effects. Eliminating funding for the arts and humanities will indeed eliminate jobs, in fact, as I have argued previously. It is not some “elitist” bi-coastal set of programs to assuage liberal audiences.
If you are being sent into combat in the Middle East — again — you want to know in your heart that the government knows what it is doing, and indeed has a plan for what happens after you are militarily victorious. That kind of thinking probably involves foreign aid, for example.
Eliminating legal services programs for the poor reflects a distinct disdain for fairness in our society. Dropping clean water programs at a time when we are seeing a spread of lead poisoning through public water sources reflects a complete blindness to programs aimed at protecting public health. You can go on in this fashion through billions of dollars’ worth of spending on “discretionary” programs.
The joke, of course, the bad joke, is that all this cutting does not reflect real budget issues. The national debt, a traditional bete noire for Republicans (and Democrats), will once again be on the march to new heights. And the calculations this week by the Fed show that Team Trump’s belief in doubling the national economy’s growth rate in the next year to be ludicrous. There will be a more complete budget program in May, when we can expect more unpleasant news about entitlement programs.
Every budget is about choices. Team Trump is making it about its view of ideological achievement, not about people. Putting America First should mean making Americans great, not just the slogan.