Donald Trump

Trump's Half-Baked Budget

Its projection relies on giddy GDP growth estimates that few credible economists, liberal or conservative, take seriously.

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Ed Lefkowicz / VWPics/Newscom

Donald Trump's first budget proposal is a brazen mix of ideology and dishonesty, seasoned with irresponsibility and pulled out of the oven as soon as it was half-baked. Those qualities make it surprisingly similar to the budgets of Barack Obama and George W. Bush—and largely in accord with public desires. Its defects are neither new nor accidental.

The plan has been assailed by Democrats and various activist groups for coddling the rich, punishing the poor and shortchanging important functions. Trump proposes to cut outlays for Medicaid, food stamps, Head Start and Social Security disability. Ditto for Environmental Protection Agency enforcement and State Department security. He would close the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

This list may give the impression that the president is fiercely determined to tame runaway federal spending. Not so. The portions of the budget that he attacks are those that matter least.

As Brian Riedl of the conservative Manhattan Institute points out, Trump has spared Social Security, Medicare and defense, and he can't control interest on the debt. These outlays make up more than half the federal budget, and under his plan, they would balloon over the next decade. "Advocates of all other budget priorities are left to fight viciously over the rapidly—shrinking scraps," writes Riedl.

Even if he got everything he requests, overall spending would not fall. It would rise. But many of the proposed cuts stand little chance on Capitol Hill. The problem with cutting small programs is that it can produce a lot of bad publicity without saving much money.

Diplomatic security? That would invite "a lot of Benghazis," said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina). Medicaid? Some dozen Senate Republicans have expressed worry about the impact back home. The NEA? Its grants are disbursed to every single congressional district. And what member of Congress wants to be pilloried for endangering Daniel Tiger?

A lot of these ideas are familiar because they've been raised before and rejected. Former NEA Chairman Dana Gioia notes that Ronald Reagan's budget director wanted to eliminate funding for the agency, but by the time Reagan left office, its budget was bigger than ever.

"Republicans have been trying to strip government subsidies from public broadcasting almost since the inception of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting in 1967," reported Politico in 2010. Yet it's still there, where it is likely to remain.

Cutting expenses is thankless work that carries more political risks than rewards, which is why many of these programs will come through intact. Democrats have no powerful attraction to fiscal austerity. Republicans champion it mostly when there is a Democrat in the White House.

Touching Social Security and Medicare is even more politically explosive, and the payoffs come mostly in the future. For the member of Congress worried about the next election, bringing down entitlement costs in 2035 is not a priority.

Tax cuts hold more allure, because they let lawmakers assume the posture of giving something to voters rather than taking things away. It's possible Trump could work out a tax plan satisfying enough members in both parties to get through Congress.

The catch is that it would leave the government spending far more than it takes in, just as it did under Bush and Obama. But that's not a deal breaker. Few of our leaders care to insist that the public pay for all the government it gets. They would rather go on running big deficits and let posterity figure out how to pay the cost, and the American people are OK with that.

Putting off hard choices indefinitely is the common theme of the Bush, Obama and Trump budgets. That approach has consequences that are debilitating and inescapable, but mostly in the long run.

"We're $20 trillion in debt," lamented White House budget director Mick Mulvaney on Monday. "Every man, woman and child in the country is $60,000 in debt." This is a rationalization for selective spending cuts, though, not for overall fiscal discipline.

The administration claims it will eliminate the deficit within 10 years. Sure it will. And I'm Usain Bolt.

Its projection relies on giddy GDP growth estimates that few credible economists, liberal or conservative, take seriously. The sober, nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget says that under realistic assumptions about the rate of economic growth, "the budget does not get to balance and keeps the unsustainable debt at current levels."

That's worked for our leaders so far. Why would they stop now?

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  1. I don’t think you’re getting it. If we cannot cut fucking PBS, tiny as it is, why would you assume big things are even possible?

    You should be CHAMPIONING those cuts on this site, if for no other reason than to show it is possible. This whole “He won’t touch the big stuff. All he does is this small shit” is funny since you don’t seem that supportive of cutting the small stuff, either

    And, under Reagan, the Dems had the House the entire time. They increased the funding. He has no part in it.

    1. If the President signs it into law or otherwise fails to veto it, he’s as much responsible for it as the Congress that passes it. The only time that a President isn’t responsible for spending increases that happen under his watch is when he vetoes it and and Congress overrides his veto.

    2. It’s not that we cannot fucking PBS… it’s that it’s not worth the effort. It accomplishes nothing more than tossing some red meat to the right. Because the effort, the political costs, the necessary concessions that are required to cut programs aren’t linearly proportional to the savings from those cuts. Cutting something that costs 1,000 times as much as PBS doesn’t cost the politician 1,000 times as much in popularity, concessions, and effort. It only costs slightly more. And, as Obamacare proved, the big changes are much more difficult to be undone. Little changes require almost no effort to be immediately undone when the tides of power shift.

      The question is why would concerns about popularity and future payoff get in the way of Trump going after the big fish? His future isn’t politics or standard post-political crap. His future is getting back into business. I doubt he seriously wants a second term and I doubt he could win it. So, go nuts!! Go after the big fish. Blow every bit of political capital that you have to make a yuuuuge, meaningful change.

      1. Cutting things is 1) good for the sake of being good and 2) shows that things can be cut without everyone dying in the streets.

        I have no great hopes, but maybe saying “look, we cut some PBS funding. We didn’t all die in the streets. There’s still lots of good stuff on TV. Heck, even some of the stuff that was on PBS got picked up by other networks. Maybe cutting [next thing] won’t be the end of the world.”

        1. Team Red already agrees those cuts are good and won’t result in people dying in the streets. Team Blue will never concede those cuts are good and will passionately portray those cuts as ruinous for little people. Team Red will be happy about getting their red meat. Team Blue will spin it (more or less correctly) as Team Red being terrible assholes who simply wanted to shit on some liberals without actually achieving anything.

          It’s the equivalent of deciding to drink one fewer $5 latte each month while you are living in a $700k house on a $25k/yr income. Yeah, you did *something* and maybe it even convinced you that you can live with one fewer latte each week. But then, you also realize that you made these sacrifices and you’re still no better off. It doesn’t accomplish anything and it doesn’t magically convince you to downsize to a shitty little apartment.

          At some point, we must reckon with the actual problem and consequences. Until then, we’re polishing brass on the titanic.

          1. There’s a good sized chunk of low-info people who don’t fall into either of the categories that you mentioned. Not necessarily idiots – just people who don’t put much thought into these types of things and go along with prevailing local attitudes or feelz or whatever. Some of these people are moderately persuadable (or at least so inconsistent in their thought processes that they’ll come along for various rides). These are people who need to be captured for anything good to happen.

      2. “Cutting something that costs 1,000 times as much as PBS doesn’t cost the politician 1,000 times as much in popularity, concessions, and effort. It only costs slightly more.”

        I’m not sure how you arrived at this piece of calculus, even if I’d like it to be true. If there’s money involved, someone’s going to scream. Cutting or even slowing the growth of, say, Medicare would bring out innumerable more screamers than axing PBS.

    3. Just like St. Ronald had no part in signing the first great ILLEGAL ALIEN AMNESTY program?

  2. Cutting small shit is better than cutting no shit, but it really is depressing. I don’t think it’s politically possible for true fiscal sanity to be restored in my lifetime. Do we just give up?

    1. Cutting expenses is thankless work

      Can’t even get a thank you on a semi-libertarian site.

      1. Start?

    2. I don’t think it’s politically possible for true fiscal sanity to be restored in my lifetime. Do we just give up?

      My advice to you is to start drinking heavily.

  3. “We’re $20 trillion in debt,” lamented White House budget director Mick Mulvaney on Monday. “Every man, woman and child in the country is $60,000 in debt.”

    more accurately half of us are $120,000 in debt. you ain’t getting any blood out of those other turnips.

  4. It’s a Chapman so I shouldn’t be surprised on the vagaries. Not a single detail on the specifics of what Trump proposed cutting – just casual dismissal.

    How about an analysis of the non-fiscal benefits of firing as many bureaucrats and regulators as possible? Are there any writers here willing to do that research without TDS pant-shitting?

    1. “Protect our swamp!!”
      -Reason Magazine

  5. All Presidential budgets are half-baked wish lists and shouldn’t be taken seriously.

    However, I need to echo the sentiment – If you are morbidly obese, cutting out that 3pm candy bar isn’t going to turn you into a hardbody. But if you can’t even cut out the 3 pm candy bar, you have zero hope of getting down to obese, husky, overweight, or fit. But maybe, if you cut out the soda pop, ice cream, alcohol, 3pm candy bar and start going for a brisk walk every night, you can make some progress, and that may eventually allow you to move towards actual diet and exercise choices that have real impact.

    But just to reiterate – yes, The Donald’s budget is a joke. Water also wet, sun still rises in the east.

  6. nice photo Ed Lefcowicz. Is it Chapman peeing at an art gallery?

    1. “This is a mighty strange place to put a urinal.”

      1. “Aim for the pie-hole”.

  7. It is rather difficult for a populist to cut the government’s most popular programs.

    The problem being thst the New Dealers and their successors successfully sold those programs as insurance contracts (even if the government states outright that it has no enforceable obligation to pay benefits). The public perception is difficult to move, but Chapman foes not have to move it all he has to fo is bitch.

  8. So Trump proposes cutting budgets of smaller agencies (but things like the EPA put real burden on businesses and thus consumers), and leaves the big ones alone. And the squishy moderate Rs and liberals won’t pass it. Dems will never pass a Trump budget unless it contained enormous defense cuts AND enormous increases in entitlements and regulatory spending. (And even then, its Trump so…..)

    If he tries for the smaller cuts first, he gets the conservatives, and some of the squishys. Maybe he gets something passed. But what the fuck makes Chapman think that if Trump had also pissed off the conservatives and cut defense spending or pissed off everyone else by going after SS or medicare that it would have turned out any better.

    What I fucking love is all of this nonsense is “Trump’s Half-Baked Budget” or his deceitful rhetoric, etc. What he proposed was better than anything any other president has proposed since Reagan. With a R Congress and Senate. And he still can’t get THAT through. Blame everybody. But it is hardly “Trump’s” fault.

  9. I for one trust and support General Cheeto without reservation, because not Hillary.

  10. How about we stop screaming ‘boo! you’re not cutting the things we think should be cut first!!!” and start screaming. ‘Yay! You’re cutting stuff! Keep going! Good job!!’

    Think that might work better than maintaining the leftist status quo of constantly increasing everything always?

    Because that’s what happens every time we let this be derailed with the ‘well that’s too small to matter’ talk.

  11. Remember, kids, Barry’s 6% growth predictions were based on sound economic models. Trump’s 3% is ludicrously high… That’s right. You have a libertarian site arguing that 3% growth is fantastically impossible.

  12. To be fair, there is no budget plan that could be proposed that would actually reduce spending that has any chance of passing. The public has completely bought into the lie that the government can keep giving them free stuff. The people have no stomach for what a government that is spending within its means would look like. Thus, they do not elect sufficient representatives committed to such a vision.

    We’re Doomed, as John Derbyshire said.

    1. There is a Republican president, House and Senate. If you can’t scrap Obamacare now, or make serious cuts to the budget, this window of opportunity will be closed for a long time.

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