Budget full of bad ideas
Saturday, March 16, 2019
The Washington Post
The best that can be said for President Trump’s $4.75 trillion budget plan for fiscal 2020 is that it has no chance of becoming law. This is almost always true of presidential budgets, because ultimately Congress does the nitty-gritty work on spending legislation. Even by the standards of previous nonstarter White House blueprints, however, Mr. Trump’s effort this year stands out for dishonesty and warped priorities.
First, dishonesty. There is, to be sure, a smidgen of candor in the fact that the plan does not purport to balance the federal budget within the next decade, though it does suggest that balance may be achieved by 2034; so much for the pretense that growth sparked by the 2017 tax cuts will solve the United States’ fiscal problem. The budget claims instead that trillion-dollar annual deficits over the next three years will taper off thereafter, such that overall national debt will decline from 78 percent of gross domestic product today to 71 percent in 2029. However, it reaches that modest achievement for fiscal responsibility by projecting 3 percent growth through 2024 and near-3 percent growth thereafter. More realistic forecasts produce an estimated debt of 87 percent of GDP by 2029, according to the Center for a Responsible Federal Budget, a Washington think tank on fiscal issues.
Second, warped priorities. Such budgetary savings as Mr. Trump does claim to achieve over the next decade come disproportionately from domestic programs, including those targeted at the neediest people in our society. It adds work requirements — difficult to administer and sometimes counterproductive — to key safety-net programs such as Medicaid, housing assistance and food stamps. At a time when evidence of dangerous harm from climate change is mounting, the budget proposes to gut the Environmental Protection Agency, to the tune of a 31 percent cut in its budget next year. Defense comes in for a 5 percent increase, meanwhile, which might indeed be necessary — but which the president would achieve by invoking a special uncapped warfighting account, an obvious gimmick Congress won’t countenance.
There’s more: cuts to refugee assistance while asking $8.6 billion for a border wall; decreasing scientific research while freezing the maximum Pell Grant for low-income college students. Here and there, the Trump budget proposes valid reforms to expensive programs, such as its suggestion for “site-neutral” Medicare payments (i.e., similar fees for services either performed in a hospital or not), which the Obama administration also backed. But you get the picture. This is a document whose good ideas can’t get traction because its bad ones simply swamp them.