by Matt Welch · March 16, 2017
An unrealistically draconian budget that doesn’t even cut spending is greeted with predictable hysteria
|Mar. 16, 2017 1:59 pm
How is the political class responding to a Donald Trump budget blueprint that utterly fails to cut spending even while including many dramatic regulatory-state cuts that Congress will never, ever approve? With about as much sober perspective as you would expect:
Reading through the Trump budget, I feel as the Romans must have felt in 456 AD as the barbarians conquered and ushered in the dark ages.
— Nicholas Kristof (@NickKristof) March 16, 2017
Here is a helpful reminder for that side of your universe busy losing their shit: During this woefully misgoverned 21st century of ours, with its sluggish economic growth and serially disastrous wars, panics, bailouts and stimuli, combined U.S. federal, state, and local government expenditures have zoomed from around $3.2 trillion in fiscal year 2000 ($4.5 trillion in today’s dollars) to north of $7 trillion this year, according to Christopher Chantrill’s useful aggregator USGovernmentSpending.com. During that time the U.S. population has grown from an estimated 281 million to 324 million, so even after adjusting for inflation, government spending has grown more than three times as fast as Census numbers.
And yet here is the type of headline we will be reading all season long: “Trump’s plan to dismember government.” That, from CNN on Tuesday, was no mere headline hyperbole—here’s the opening section from senior enterprise reporter Stephen Collinson:
President Donald Trump plans to dismember government one dollar at a time.
His first budget — expected to be unveiled later this week — will mark Trump’s most significant attempt yet to remold national life and the relationship between federal and state power.
It would codify an assault on regulatory regimes over the environment, business and education
Italics mine, for future death-metal band names.
ReasonHere are three iron rules of political-class reactions to any whiff of budget cuts: 1) Every previous budget ratchet will be ignored, yet taken as the minimum acceptable baseline. 2) If even 1 percent of a to-be-reduced bloc of spending can be described as keeping granny from starving to death, that will be precisely how the whole bag of money is characterized. 3) It will all be about the president, even though the president writes no budgets.
This will be this century’s third sustained round of media histrionics about the supposedly “annihilating” effects of “savage budget cuts.” The first concerned the zombie-apocalypse of unsupervised skating and threatened (though never quite delivered) mass teacher-firings during the 2009-2010 state budget crisis. (Which was routinely blamed on brutal austerity instead of the massive spending run-up just before the financial bubble burst in 2008.) The second, in 2012-13, warned of the poisoned meat, reduced travel perks and a generation’s worth of lost science (no really) resulting from the totally modest and all-too-temporary budget sequestration.
After those two near-death events it’s a wonder that we still know how to breathe.
Trump’s military boost will almost certainly be approved. His 25 percent cut to the Environmental Protection Agency almost certainly will not. He’s a historically unpopular president currently risking what political capital he has on a deeply (and rightfully) unpopular Obamacare reboot; you think that the congresscritters who are currently fleeing constituent townhalls like rats from an ice floe are prepping themselves to face down the next few months’ of “Congress Rapes the Environment to Please the Rich” headlines?
The net result, in an era when Congress doesn’t even make budgets anymore and both parties are in thrall to debt denialists, is that the federal government during Trump’s first year in office is likely to spend and borrow even more than he’s proposing today. That is the real scandal, if one unlikely to break through the purple-faced rage of media hyperventilation.