While the budget contains some positive ideas mixed with some negative ones, some topics do not belong in either category. In part three, we explore the ugly side of the budget.
Mandatory spending, otherwise known as entitlement spending, is a much larger portion of the federal budget than discretionary spending, and yet it has earned a reputation as the third rail of politics. No president or Congress seems willing to touch it. President Trump’s budget is no exception. While mandatory spending is exactly that – mandatory – President Trump could have included proposed legislation or suggestions for welfare reform in his budget; he did not. In 2008, mandatory spending breached the $1 trillion mark for the first time in our nation’s history. The number is expected to double by 2020, according to the Government Publishing Office. Our entitlement spending is spiraling out of control to the tune of trillions of dollars, yet the president is content to merely shuffle some loose change between one pocket and the other.
The annual deficit, per the Congressional Budget Office, currently stands at $559 billion. Under current projections, the deficit will climb to over $1.4 trillion by 2027. This upward trendline should be alarming and worrisome, yet no one in the current administration seems concerned with enacting sweeping changes to bring down the deficit. The scariest part of this proposed budget is that while baseline spending remains unchanged from the prior year, President Trump has repeatedly said he wants to cut taxes. If he succeeds in doing so, the deficit will rise without additional cuts to spending. Just shifting existing expenses from domestic programs to defense does not leave any room to offset tax breaks.
Mick Mulvaney, the Director of the OMB, had this little gem in his introduction for the budget, praising the plan for rebuilding and restoring our nation’s security:
It does so while meeting another of the President’s core commitments: addressing our Nation’s priorities without sending future generations an even bigger credit card bill. This 2018 Budget Blueprint will not add to the deficit. It has been crafted much the same way any American family creates its own budget while paying bills around their kitchen table; it makes hard choices.
Has Mr. Mulvaney ever had to worry about a family budget with his cushy government salary of $205,700? Does he even understand the basic concepts of debt or hard financial choices? An analogy is in order, to help illustrate how out of touch the dear director is. For simplicity’s sake, we will lop off eight zeros from the federal budget to create this hypothetical family and visit them during their difficult discussion at the kitchen table. If this were the Mulvaney family, his salary would now be a humbler $34,000, while the family expenses for the prior year would have been $40,000. Last year, the family racked up $6,000 more in credit card debt, bringing their total balance close to $200,000. Mr. Mulvaney decides to make some hard choices and releases his new family budget. He decides to move $540 from the restaurant budget and spend it on locks for the doors and a new shotgun. That pesky $6,000 shortfall? Why, that’s the same as last year! He is not adding to the deficit; it is staying the same! So, he ignores it and then pats himself on the back for addressing his family’s priorities without setting his kids up to inherit a now $206,000 credit card bill. Oh well, maybe one of his children will share some pointers with him.
Even in light of all these distressing topics, the single ugliest item in the entire budget has got to be the part where the president slipped in a $3 billion allocation for a border wall. This observation is not to argue for or against the wall, but simply to point out the fact that the American people are the ones who foot the bill for the government’s budget, not Mexico. It is disappointing that after all the assurances, bluster, and promises on the campaign trail, President Trump is going to ask the citizens of the United States to pony up the down payment for his key platform pledge. He claims it will be reimbursed in some form by Mexico, but has yet to describe how that might happen.
Yes, there was a lot to make you wince in the budget. However, it was also groundbreaking in its requests to dramatically slash some domestic federal spending and do away with dozens of agencies and programs. Unfortunately, it is far from a libertarian budget. For each dollar of domestic spending he cut, President Trump increased the defense budget by an equal amount. The president lays out no plan for how to reform taxes or rein in entitlements – two essential components of getting our financial house in order. The vast path of destruction Trump wants to burn through the federal agencies will do more harm than good in some cases, and the budget does nothing to shrink the overall deficit, debt, or annual amount that Washington spends. It is important to note that this is nonetheless a laudable first step and lays the groundwork to build on and tackle the harder questions in years to come. As with almost everything inside the beltway, there is some good, some bad, and a lot of ugly.