Donald Trump

Congressional Budget Incompetence Can't Compete with Spankgate, Girthergate, Shitgazi

The president is who he is, and that's sad. But Congress has no excuse for not passing a budget and doing its job.

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What a difference a week makes! Just seven days ago, all of America (and a good chunk of the United Nations and international community) was consumed with the question of whether President Donald Trump had referred to Haiti, all the countries of Africa, and possibly parts of Antarctica as "shitholes," "shithouses," or nothing of the sort. But just as the good times were getting started, that urgent debate was interrupted by a slew of brand-new outrages, all playing out as a potential government shutdown approaches like an iceberg inexorably moving closer to the Titanic.

So many deck chairs to rearrange—how could we possibly take notice of that thing on the horizon? But the plain truth, especially for libertarians who might otherwise cheer a government shutdown, is that we need to stop wallowing in the mire of everyday stupidity and fix our gaze on important things such as passing a federal budget, ending effectively warrantless surveillance on Americans, and hammering out immigration laws that reflect the best hopes of our country and not our darkest fears.

Since Shitgazi hit the fan, so much new has happened. In no particular order, we've dealt with "Girthergate," in which the president's detractors claim that Donald Trump is actually much, much fatter than he already plainly appears to be. No way, say the girthers, that the former beauty-pageant tycoon and serial fat-shamer is a svelte 239 pounds as his doctor claims! We've met Stormy Daniels, a porn star who has publicly denied reports that she had a sexual relationship with the married Trump starting in 2006; she also denies that she was paid $130,000 in hush money to keep quiet. The Wall Street Journal, in a compelling display of old-style investigative journalism, says she and Trump are lying and its reporters have followed a payoff trail through a complicated financial setup involving Delaware-based shell companies. A sub-scandal in this story has also gotten a lot of ink: "Stormy Daniels Once Claimed She Spanked Donald Trump With a Forbes Magazine." If that isn't enough for you to swear off print for good and go all-digital, there remains the hotly debated question of whether the particular issue featured a cover story on Trump himself or his daughter Ivanka, about whom he has said some weird shit. Trump also released the winners of his "fake news" awards, too, which he defined mostly as any news account hostile to him and his agenda.

If this was a Marx Brothers movie, this would be all good, dirty fun. But we're dealing with situations a tad more serious. Over the past week, both houses of Congress, in a rare but depressing show of bipartisanship, overwhelmingly approved renewal of Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which effectively allows the government to spy not simply on foreign agents but on U.S. citizens. As Scott Shackford explains, "This bill doesn't just renew Section 702 for six years; it also codifies permission for the FBI to access and use data secretly collected from Americans for a host of domestic federal crimes that have nothing to do with protecting America from foreign threats." While the legislation awaits Donald Trump's signature into law, dissenting members of Congress have called for publishing a classified four-page memo that they say "reveals alleged United States government surveillance abuses [that are]…'shocking,' 'troubling' and 'alarming,' with one congressman likening the details to KGB activity in Russia." In a Senate that has been incapable of passing an actual budget in forever, a bipartisan group of senators led by Democrat Ron Wyden and Republican Rand Paul were shut down when they tried to filibuster FISA renewal. FISAgate just can't compete with Spankgate, it seems.

If the Senate fails to enact a continuing budget resolution today (CR), the federal government will shut down for the first time since October 2013. Yesterday, the House passed a CR that will keep the government funded through mid-February. Republicans in both houses of Congress have included a six-year renewal of the Children's Health Insurance Program, which serves low-income Americans, as a way to pressure Democrats to accept the deal. Democratic senators are instead pushing for a few-day extension to the current CR and passage of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which would grant legal status to some 700,000 immigrants who were brought here illegally as children. DACA protections put into place by President Obama via executive order currently expire on March 5.

It's telling that virtually all the conversation, both among elected officials and the press, is about which party will take the rap for shutting down the government, and how Trump's share of the blame will influence the midterm elections (Democrats must surely be worried that Republicans ended up doing extremely well in the 2014 midterms despite being held responsible for the 2013 shutdown). These people are not serious about politics or policy. Like Donald Trump, they are dilettantes who refuse to settle down and work.

Indeed, it's even more telling that since 1977, when new rules went into effect, the government has only passed a budget before the relevant fiscal year began four times (the last time was in 1997). To say the wheels have come off the most-basic function of government—passing a budget to pay for its operations—is a gross understatement. If the last shutdown is any guide, there really is very little to worry about in the near- and mid-term from a government shutdown. "Essential" functions, such as cutting checks to seniors, will continue, and "essential" federal employees will show up for work (did you know that fully 95 percent of staff at the Department of Education are considered "non-essential"?)

But especially from a limited-government point of view, we need to do better if we want a state that does less and costs less. Not only do the lives of dreamers and other people hang in the balance, but government spending is structured so it increases massively over time even if our legislators do nothing. Since the early 2000s, when federal spending was split more or less evenly between "mandatory" spending on entitlements such as Medicare and Social Security that ratchets up automatically and "discretionary" spending (education, defense, and the like), which needs to be voted on each year, the mix has shifted dramatically to mandatory. Currently, less than one-third of the federal budget is discretionary and thus voted on each year.

So while Congress fiddles, the budget grows bigger and bigger. So does the national debt. The essential function of Trump's endless outrage flares is to distract all of us from exactly the sort of serious conversations we need to be having. He is who he is; it's up to him and his handlers to live all that. The rest of us need to spend less time on Spankgate and more time on entitlement reform. It matters less that Trump calls Haiti a shithole and more that Congress actually work to hammer out a good immigration reform plan and force it down the president's throat like .

But it's Friday, alas, and we can only figure out what fresh hell awaits us in the coming week.

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  2. Durbin starting the shithole tangent almost seems like the Democrats thought they would benefit politically by derailing a deal on DACA.

    1. Nah
      I think they just can’t help themselves when it comes to an opportunity to shriek “Racist!”

      All I know is that Trump says “shithole”, or something like it, and there is no DACA deal

      So much winning!

  3. Do you want to know why both tribes seem to be consumed with trivial matters?
    Because on the big stuff, they don’t really disagree!
    The only things that separate them ARE the trivial crap and the wedge-issue culture war crap.

    1. Some in the tribe have vast differences in what government is there for.

      Democrats are for massive government and severe authoritarianism.

      Some Republicans want more limited government than what we have, some want massive military spending, some want authoritarianism to control ‘immoral’ behavior.

      Only Libertarians want a very small and limited government.

      1. Only Libertarians want a very small and limited government.

        Only ruined by the fact they have no plans to make it happen, and often advocate a partial application of their principles that will actually enlarge and unlimit government (e.g. open borders).

        1. Yeah, this idea that Libertarians need to have all or nothing progress seems like real sabotage to me.

          That and accepting of anarchists and other lefties who don’t like Libertarianism to be our Libertarian spokesmen is just a recipe for failure. What better way to keep Libertarianism from being the prominent political group like when classical liberalism was what got the USA founded.

    2. And sometimes, I’m not even sure if they actually care about the culture war crap. I think it’s just face paint they put on so people can tell them apart, like actors in a play.

  4. Balanced budget Amendment to the Constitution.

    They must pass the budget before the federal fiscal year begins. Congressmen are fined 10% of their yearly pay, each day they cannot reach a balanced budget if they run into the new fiscal year.

    Congress should be limited to part time politicking too under Constitutional Amendment. Less than 50 days out of 365 would be more appropriate.

  5. Another Gillespie article full of snark and fury, signifying very little.

  6. I agree the pornstar story doesn’t deserve much attention. The “shithole” comment, in contrast, is important because it reveals the white supremacist attitude underlying Drumpf’s entire presidency.

    1. That Haiti is a shithole is pretty much conventional wisdom.

      1. I would say that if you don’t think Haiti is a shithole, you have never been or seen pictures, or don’t understand why Haitians flee Haiti in the record numbers they do.

        1. Except one can reasonably infer that Trump did not just say “shithole” and that he was talking more about the people who come from there than the actual countries themselves. It was a discussion about immigrants after all. Because in the end, what difference does it make what country an immigrant comes from so long as they do it legally and follow our laws once here?

  7. Enough Already With Tawdry, Trumpian Distractions!

    BUT THIS IS LITERALLY WHAT I LIVE FOR. LITERALLY.

  8. Why Trumpian and not Trumpist?

    1. I thought we were all Trumpkins

  9. We need to come together as a people and quit using -gate as a suffix.

    1. The ‘-gate’ Affair.

  10. Trump must just have the worst luck in the world. I mean, we all know he’s the least racist person you’ll ever meet, so what else could explain how all these total fucking racists keep getting appointed by his administration?

    1. I’m still trying to figure out what was particularly bad in his comments.

        1. Um, yeah, you have a very ill-informed understanding of what a Nazi is my dude.

          1. Since Nazis are socialists, some people would rather have fictional Nazis from Raiders be the scary boogeymen.

          2. Sorry, that wasn’t in reference to Higbie, who while a detestable asshole is not necessarily, technically speaking a Nazi. That was in reference to you, who in past topics (and this one) have revealed yourself to be a piece of Stormfront garbage.

    2. People say crap like that all the time. Not on the radio, though.

  11. “Trump also released the winners of his “fake news” awards, too, which he defined mostly as any news account hostile to him and his agenda.”

    The Weigel won a “fake news” award from Trump, for cutting the same kinds of corners and making the same kinds of mistakes he did before. Isn’t this the second time Weigel has made headlines for embarrassing The Post?

    Ever notice that ENB and Robbie seem to pull the same kind of shit?

    I have.

    I don’t think it’s generational. There seems to be a certain personality type that’s drawn to making these mistakes. On the one hand, they’re surprised that anyone takes them seriously (I was just kidding, President Trump! or You libertarians in the peanut gallery need to get out more!).

    On the other hand, they don’t seem to understand why the people they want to take them seriously don’t taken them seriously. Part of it is that they think because their heart is in the right place, it justifies whatever they do. Weigel probably didn’t care enough to check whether what he was posting was accurate beforehand.

    The other two seem to think it’s absurd for people to check.

    1. Journolists don’t want to investigate stories anymore or provide as much as they can to readers or viewers.

      Its not all their faults as its about quantity over quality now.

      The parts that are their fault are lack of what they used to call “journalistic integrity”. Lefties hijacked that to try and pass of lefty propaganda with integrity. Tell a story with both sides of the story, no matter if it hurts your team too.

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  13. “and hammering out immigration laws that reflect the best hopes of our country and not our darkest fears.”

    God that’s dumb. “Downsides feel bad, so ignore them.”

    The continuing attempt to defend Open Borders is turning Reason staffers into morons.

  14. (did you know that fully 95 percent of staff at the Department of Education are considered “non-essential”?)

    I think it’s 100%

    I don’t know why Libertarians want to avoid a shutddown
    Seems a great chance to get apparatchiks off our backs for a few weeks, pay their pay for the year, and maybe get rid of some permanently

    All the jerk offs at Dept. of Ed?
    Let’s furlough them, no back pay when they come back. Maybe cut them.

    One of the quieter things Trump has done is not fill federal positions. Maybe he’ll take the opportunity of the shutdown to cut positions. Can’t have people employed that the Congress refuses to fund, right? That would be unconstitutional.

    Start cutting government headcount during shutdowns, and there won’t be any more shut downs.

    1. The Dept. Of Education needs to be abolished, and control given back, not to states, but to local school boards.

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