April 7, 2020

Ironic Budgets

By Stephen Tuttle | Feb. 17, 2018

President Donald Trump presented his idea of a budget last week. It was about what you'd expect.

Let's see ... he would cut food stamps by 22 percent and add a work requirement, which isn't really a budget item at all. He wants the government to send food boxes instead of money to recipients. He proposes a 14 percent cut to subsidized housing and the complete elimination of the public housing capital-improvement and repair fund. He thinks repairing shabby federally subsidized housing should be the responsibility of state and local governments.  

He would do away with Community Development Block Grants, which would be bad news for cities, including Traverse City, that use them. 

The Trump budget would cut State Department spending by 32 percent. He apparently believes his Twitter account is diplomacy enough in a world with a half-dozen flashpoints on the verge of ignition.  

He would also continue to hack away at the Environmental Protection Agency, whose administrator, Scott Pruitt, last week became the first known person to claim climate change could be good for human beings.  

And, of course, the budget eliminates any additional federal payments for the Affordable Care Act, and continues the ongoing assault on low-income Americans by reducing Medicaid payments by $250 billion over the next decade. The idea here, other than erasing any hint of the Obama presidency, is to eventually eliminate Medicaid altogether and replace it with proportional payments to states, which would decide how to use the funds.

And he would eliminate funding for the Great Lakes Initiative, which helps protect our most important resource.

There are significant ironies here.

The greatest is that presidential budgets are pretty much irrelevant. It's the House of Representatives, with the consent of the Senate, that is responsible for raising revenue and appropriating spending. The president has no constitutional budget authority at all, other than signing or vetoing the budget bill sent him by Congress. (The president can also just ignore it, in which case it will become law in 10 days (excluding Sunday) without his signature. But doing that creates no photo-op, so presidents tend to sign or veto.) 

Presidential budgets, which likely create lots of work for some staffers, are just a suggestion. Sometimes, when the party controlling the White House and Congress are the same, some of those suggestions are followed. But most of the time, like this year, they are completely ignored. 

It's also ironic timing since Congress just wrapped up a two-year budget agreement to much fanfare, averting additional government shutdowns until at least the 2020 presidential election cycle. They didn't seem to be aware of the president's wishes.

The congressional budget deal, which President Trump signed into law, cuts almost nothing. In fact, it increases discretionary spending of the sort the president wishes to cut by nearly $65 billion. It does not slash food stamps or subsidized housing or EPA funding or State Department funding or Medicaid or much of anything. 

Both the president and Congress added significant spending for the Defense Department, claiming our military, both personnel and equipment, is stretched too thin to be mission ready. 

(That is likely not because we haven't been spending enough. We consistently overspend on programs and systems, including those the military neither wants nor needs. Our military is overextended because we've been in two wars too long, and every bit of presidential bellicosity seems to require additional deployments somewhere.)

The budget deal eliminated, and then went sailing by, previously legislated spending caps by $153 billion. The deal will add $350 billion to this year's deficit and the national debt — on top of the $1 trillion their tax-reform package will add to the debt over the next decade.

So, we've learned the president would like to keep slashing away at social programs, and Congress ignored him. He'd like to eliminate as much of the EPA as he can, but Congress ignored him. He'd like to marginalize diplomacy by whacking the State Department, and Congress ignored him. He wanted to increase defense spending, and Congress increased it more. That's as it should be, because Congress creates the budget, not the president. 

The final irony here is this is the same Congress that only a few years ago was supposedly controlled by fire-breathing budget hawks of the tea party variety. They were determined to stop deficit spending and shrink the debt, and they were prepared to shut down the government to do it. 

It's pretty clear all those candidates who told us they were going to eliminate waste and duplication, cut the budget, and stop deficit spending were just pretending. Now we have Republicans joining Democrats in blissful bipartisan harmony doing the one thing they all do best — spending money they don't have. 

How ironic. 





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