Trump’s First Budget A Mixed Bag

Last week, the Trump Administration released their 2018 budget blueprint to criticism from both left and right. The budget is essentially a $54 billion dollar increase for Defense and Homeland Security, offset by sharp double-digit cuts to Education, Health and Human Services, State, Agriculture, and the EPA. Budget Director Rick Mulvaney, a fiscal hawk when he was a South Carolina congressman, defended the plan as “fairly compassionate”.  The response from the left has been typical, even to the point of calling Mulvaney “pure evil.” Surely there’s no hyperbole there!

It should surprise no one that the left and big government Republicans are joined in being apoplectic over Trump’s cutting of some of the budget.  For example, the National Endowment for the Arts and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting are eliminated in their entirety.  Per NPR, the “CPB received $445 million in federal funding in the last fiscal year; the NEA and NEH got about $148 million each — a tiny portion of the roughly $4 trillion federal budget.” Proponents of the NEA and CPB claim that since these programs represent such a small portion of the total budget, it makes no sense to cut them. Take this quote from Patricia Harrison, the President and CEO of CPB, “There is no viable substitute for federal funding that ensures Americans have universal access to public media’s education and informational programming and services.” She called public media “one of America’s best investments,” costing “approximately $1.35 per citizen per year.”

This line of reasoning is embarrassing and shows the absolute lack of critical thinking and problem solving skills that characterize so much of the political and economic landscape today. There absolutely is a viable substitute to federal funding, it’s called private donations. If there is a market need for the types of services provided by public broadcasting and the NEA, then the people who want them should pay for them. Patricia Harrison and her ilk can claim they are helping the poor all they like, but what they are really saying is that she doesn’t want her company to have to compete in the market for customers and funding like everyone else. Instead, she demands that taxpayers prop up and subsidize her failing business model.  I really don’t care if it only costs each taxpayer $1.35 per year. If politicians don’t have the nerve to cut small, virtually unimportant line items, how will they ever get the courage to take on bloated bankrupting entitlements like Social Security and Medicare?

Trump’s budget also ends the Community Development Block Grant, a program within the Department of Housing and Urban Development which helps to fund programs like Meals on Wheels. This has led to many incorrectly stating that Trump was going to end the Meals on Wheels program. The problem is that this is patently false. Meals on Wheels is not a federal program. The truth is that the Community Development Block Grant only funds a small portion of Meals on Wheels and because it is a grant, the portion that does fund it is entirely under state, not federal, control.

There is a lot of good in this budget blueprint and these cuts are a good start, but there are still major problems. First, Trump’s budget continues to kick the can down the road on entitlements. Trump has repeatedly stated that he plans no reforms to Social Security or Medicare, which currently eat up over 65% of the federal budget. This is simply unsustainable. When you consider the aging baby boomer generation, coupled with the record high number of people out of the workforce, current entitlement spending will continue to spiral out of control.  Whether the government funds art won’t matter when we can no longer pay social security or the interest on the national debt.

Secondly, the entire reduction in federal spending is offset by increases to an already bloated and mismanaged Department of Defense, as well as the totally unnecessary Department of Homeland Security. As it stands, the United States spends more on defense than the next seven countries combined. It’s hard to imagine that spending another $54 billion is contributing to anything other than diminishing returns. Not only that, because the cuts are all offset by increases, there is no movement on either the deficit or the national debt.

Overall, there are many positive spending cuts in the Trump Administration’s first budget and they should be commended for that. If they could only take a similar approach to defense and entitlements, we may start to see some real economic growth.

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