February 28, 2017

The True Message of Trump’s Budget

He delivers on his campaign promises. It’s that simple.

Donald Trump delivers on his campaign promises. Ins and outs and details of his budget aside, that’s the overarching message the Trump White House wants to convey. Trump campaigned on increasing defense and infrastructure spending, while cutting waste, fraud and abuse elsewhere and leaving entitlements alone. On the eve of his first address to Congress tonight, Trump released some details of his upcoming budget that would make good on those promises.

His outline includes boosting defense spending by $54 billion, or about 10%, while cutting the allocations for numerous other federal agencies to pay for it. (It’s worth noting that defense spending is now 3.2% of GDP, down from 4.6% eight years ago.) Trump pledged to leave the major entitlements — Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid — alone, despite the fact that they consume roughly two-thirds of the budget. That’s why Republicans, particularly House Speaker Paul Ryan, have argued for years that serious reform is necessary. Another possible spending increase could come for infrastructure. “We spent $6 trillion in the Middle East, and we have potholes all over our highways and our roads,” Trump complained. “We’re going to start spending on infrastructure — big.”

As with his inaugural address, Trump promised to put “America first” in his budget. “We are going to do more with less and make the government lean and accountable to the people,” Trump said. “We can do so much more with the money we spend.” He’s certainly right about that.

Of course, in reality the budget is primarily up to Congress. The president’s budget is more or less a guidepost he hopes Congress will follow. But Trump understands how important it is to communicate over the heads of the media and Beltway operators that he intends to do what he said he’d do. That will provide leverage for him.

On a final note, the total federal debt is now just short of $20 trillion. When Barack Obama took office, it was just over $10 trillion. Thus, we must point out the predictable shortcoming with Trump’s initial numbers: Reducing our national debt — or even slowing its growth — is obviously not among his goals.

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