Trump’s Budget Is An Unrealistic Fiction – Forbes
To judge a plan or budget, it is necessary to consider the goals its creators want to achieve. Donald Trump’s budget framework, released this morning, comes with a clear set of intentions. In turn, the goals sit upon a series of assumptions. But no matter how you juggle the reasoning, the result will likely be that the new budget, if used by Congress, will undercut the very things that Trump claims to embrace and, in the process, increase income inequality and deeply hurt those who already bear much of the pain in this country.
The intent of the budget, according to the document, is threefold:
- Put the need of Americans first.
- Increase domestic safety and security through reprioritizing federal spending “because without safety, there can be no prosperity.”
- Achieve these changes without increasing the budget deficit.
The three major points contain a number of assumptions:
- Someone’s needs have been put before those of Americans in the past, presumably, given the budget orientations, immigrants, refugees, and foreign aid to other countries.
- There has been a growing threat to citizens from sources abroad and domestic.
- The budget deficit is a problem.
Some economists would argue that the third actually isn’t a problem because of the ability to borrow through the creation of debt and pay over time. Although that has been the “sophisticated” take, history has proven repeatedly that theories can go awry. The Keynesian school suggested that deficit spending might be necessary at times of economic malaise to maintain employment and, therefore, consumer consumption. Periodic deficit spending is different from the constant level of deficit in which the country has indulged for decades. From a politically pragmatic view, constant deficit spending also requires constant increases in the debt ceiling, hardly something to take for granted given the dynamics on Capitol Hill that have shut down the government over the issue.
Grant, then, that the goal to avoid growing the deficit at the very least is reasonable. The other two issues may sound solid, but actually are not. Moving up the list to the second item, the country is far more secure than it has been in many years. Despite an uptick in violent crime in some cities (that still managed to remain near historical lows), the overall crime rate in 2016 was about the same as it was in 2015, and that has been after a long period of decline.
Terrorist threats from foreigners are of microscopic size, even counting the 9/11 attacks in 2001, according to an analysis by the Cato Institute, which is hardly a bleeding-heart liberal organization. As for home-grown terrorism, it falls under violent crime and, so, isn’t on the rise. That doesn’t mean concerns over immigration are imaginary. We have a significant immigration problem, but one of a different nature than claims of danger, which means it requires a different orientation than “security.”
The first point assumes that the bulk of attention of the federal government has been on non-Americans. Spending doesn’t reflect that, unless you look at military campaigns, and those are, by Trump’s definition, something that is supposed to be for the good of the country. Foreign aid is a tiny slice of the budget — less than 1 percent, the military portion generally is paid to U.S. arms manufacturers, and even the humanitarian aid goes through U.S. organizations.
Therefore, it is reasonable to argue that Trump’s first two priorities as expressions of urgent need are misplaced. More Americans need well-paying jobs, affordable and robust healthcare, ways to reconcile our use of economic immigrants with their non-permitted status, better education within the means of most families, a clean environment, energy sources that aren’t dependent on petroleum and coal, and less control of government by large moneyed interests.
However, even assuming that Trump’s first two priorities were correct and that they addressed the most pressing issues in this country, which they do not, the overall budgetary treatment of them is highly flawed.
The increase in budget of the Department of Defense is currently ludicrous because the organization has less control over its spending than a hormonal teenager with his or her first credit card. The DoD has continually been given a pass in its inability to present books that could be financially audited, a requirement for every other department and agency in the federal government. It is impossible at the moment to know how much waste there is in the Defense Department, although some of the largest opportunities to cut waste and increase inefficiency, according to an Office of Management and Budget report from last year that Trump has touted, can be found in the DoD. Until the problems are addressed and it is possible to know where money goes, the additional $54 billion Trump wants to transfer from other agencies and programs could be flushed away in a giant custom-built titanium toilet for all anyone knows.
The deep cuts in other departments Trump’s budget envisions undermine his claimed interest in true security and welfare for the American people. He expresses an interest in a more efficient government, and on the surface that is eminently reasonable. Who could make a cogent argument for inefficiency?