The lessons of Trump's budget

  • 21 March 2017
  • NormanL
The lessons of Trump's budget

The President's budget proposal has been largely panned on Capitol Hill, and among various outside groups, for the spending reductions it offers, and the priorities it sets. But, as this op-ed in the Wall Street Journal notes, regardless of its eventual fate, the Trump budget has already performed an invaluable service:

Critics are portraying these domestic cuts as shocking while Mr. Trump is advertising his defense increases as the largest in history. They’re both wrong. The annual federal budget is now more than $4 trillion, so the White House is proposing to shift a mere 1.35% of that to defense from other priorities. That’s it.

So why all the wailing and gnashing of teeth in DC?

A good political rule for conservatives is if you’re going to propose cutting a program, you might as well try to eliminate it. The political pain is as great and if you succeed the payoff is greater. The mistake to avoid is cutting some popular program that critics can make a political focus that defines your entire budget. The White House is probably going to learn that lesson with its proposal to cut Meals on Wheels for the elderly.

The larger lesson is how difficult the spending choices are going to be if politicians refuse to reform entitlements. As they gobble up ever more of the federal fisc, other priorities will inevitably go wanting. Conservatives won’t get another Reagan-sized military buildup, while progressives lose money for education and subsidies for the poor.

Mr. Trump isn’t helping by taking Medicare and Social Security off the reform table, but at least he and Republicans in Congress are trying to repeal ObamaCare and reform Medicaid, the fastest-growing entitlement.

Difficult choices are something that no politician, of either major party, will ever willingly make. Politicians enjoy playing Santa Claus. They shower gifts on this, that, or the other constituency, earnign praise, thanks and votes. All made possible by spending someone else's money.

It's a great racket, and it has been going on for as long as democracies have existed. But the gift giving is not sustainable. Eventually, the bills -- particularly those incurred on the credit card -- come due. The Trump budget does not make it any easier for government -- and taxpayers -- to meet those looming bills. 

But it does serve the great purpose of asking why the government should fund as many things as it does -- items that can find no support either in the Constitution or in common sense.

Not that members of Congress, broadly speaking, care about such niceties. They see every cut -- both real and imagnied -- as an assault on civilization and the health of the Republic. The real casualty, though, is their prized roles as Santa.