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February 13, 2018

The Next Budget Boondoggle

President Donald Trump on Monday released his $4.4 trillion budget proposal, which reveals his priorities.

President Donald Trump on Monday released his $4.4 trillion budget proposal for 2019. As The Daily Signal adds, Trump “is proposing a 10-year spending plan that never produces a balanced budget, and increases deficit spending by $7.2 trillion over the next decade.” Did someone say “Tea Party”?

No, apparently not.

Most conservatives have longed for the day when our elected officials would cut taxes, rein in spending and produce a balanced budget. We will have to long some more because from the looks of Trump’s proposal and the actions of Republicans in Congress, the days of working for any semblance of fiscal sanity are past. Instead of reducing spending, Trump’s latest proposal would add to the national debt even more because it makes little effort to control deficit spending.

“Talk about an afterthought,” says The Wall Street Journal. “Congress just passed a two-year budget outline that supersedes nearly everything Mr. Trump is proposing.” Indeed, presidential budget proposals never pass Congress, but they provide a guide to the administration’s priorities.

Among the many problems in Washington, one of the biggest is that there are too few fiscally conservative politicians. And it’s not just Democrats who have a spending problem — it’s the majority of Republicans in Congress as well. And, oh, by the way, the GOP currently has the majority in the House and the Senate. Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul perhaps said it best when he declared, “When the Democrats are in power, Republicans appear to be the conservative party, but when Republicans are in power, it seems there is no conservative party.”

The budget Trump signed last week adds $320 billion in spending to an already bloated budget. Republicans caved to just about every one of the Democrats’ spending proposals, which will of course add to the national debt. Trump’s 2019 budget proposal sets a goal of $3 trillion in spending cuts, but it doesn’t balance the budget because those cuts aren’t cuts — they’re reductions in anticipated growth. Trump is counting on an improving economy due to the tax cuts to help with narrowing the gap. Thus his administration assumes that by cutting funds in certain government programs but spending more in others, the debt will shrink relative to the economy. That has not worked out well in the past.

Republicans have campaigned for years about cutting taxes, cutting spending and balancing the budget. So far we’ve seen action on the first plank, but little on the other two. Of course, Donald Trump did not campaign as a small government conservative — he campaigned as a businessman, a dealmaker who could “drain the swamp.”

For example, Trump’s two budget proposals keep his campaign promises to not touch Social Security and Medicare, but those programs account for an enormous part of the U.S. budget and are not sustainable. As the Journal notes, “Look at ‘payments for individuals,’ which encompass such income transfers as Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and food stamps, among other things. This category was 47.7% of outlays in 1989 and has steadily climbed to reach an estimated 69.2% in 2019.”

To be sure, there’s a big difference between food stamps and Social Security, but that’s astounding — nearly 70% of the budget is straight up income redistribution.

Still, seniors in particular view Social Security and Medicare, not without reason, as something they are due and that shouldn’t be messed with because they paid into the system for decades. Despite the fact, however, that both programs are funded by today’s workers, and that the fiscal future for these government programs looking very bad, people who pay in don’t want the government intervening to “fix” it, because most realize that government fixes usually turn into greater problems. Trump knows this too.

That leads to the primary factor here. Most voters — from both major political parties — just don’t care about the budget or deficit spending. The issue doesn’t even crack the top 10 list of concerns for most voters. Most voters despise politicians and during election years cry out for smaller government. But when elected officials start talking about spending cuts for this or that program, many of their constituents cry out for the program to remain in place — or demand that more funds be allocated for the particular program.

Washington politicos know this, which is why both parties, particularly the “centrists” on both sides of the aisle push, pull and compromise on each other’s principles to spend money on pet projects that they think will benefit the majority of their constituents get the most votes. The focus becomes not on fiscal restraint but on pleasing constituents so that those in power can remain in power. The end result, as we have witnessed time and time again, is more of the same.

That’s why getting a balanced budget passed or actually reducing federal deficit spending may not ever happen because in the end neither party cares enough about the deficit enough to cut money from their favorite programs. Unfortunately, we will continue to get more of the same until the old guard politicians from both parties who have clung to their power for so long are voted out of office and replaced with people who understand the importance of constitutional government run with fiscal restraint.

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