Trump’s Budget Doesn’t Make the Cut
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Trump’s Budget Doesn’t Make the Cut

The Businessman-in-Chief Can’t Even Pass the Most Basic Test of a Manager

Coming up with a budget is a pretty standard test for a manager, whether at work or at home.

At once, the manager is supposed to assess what demands are being made against what assets there are at hand, to set priorities while understanding the need to maintain at least some of the current needs, and to make the numbers work to live within whatever limits have been indicated.

For many years, that’s how we’ve had to think about running our household, fortunately being able to match most of our needs against what we could bring in. For years, news organizations I worked at had to prove enormously creative in marrying their constantly rising costs against dwindling company advertising revenues. Still, however difficult in both cases, we did it—every year. Even if we had to borrow, we knew how much, how to spread the cost and what adjustments we might have to make.

Now comes Trump, businessman-in-chief, for whom crafting a federal budget should be like breathing. It should not prove an overly heavy lift.

Except it did.

The federal budget unveiled yesterday was big on underscoring Trump’s favorite priorities—the military and a Wall—with no apparent regard for what the business of our country would look like as a result. Maybe that is the kind of businessman he has been—one who has run his company repeatedly into bankruptcy proceedings, while ending up in 3,500 lawsuits over non-payment through the years.

As a gesture toward balancing the books, Trump proposed more than $3 trillion in cuts over 10 years: slashing Medicare, the thing he had vowed never to touch, along with food stamps and a swath of domestic spending programs—you know the social safety net that protects the vulnerable, not to mention, me. Among other tough calls, the president lowered the budget boom on the National Endowment on the Arts, the Endowment on the Humanities, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and National Public Radio—you know, the culture that all that military is meant to protect.

Once again, I will note that somehow manufacturing and mining jobs in Ohio, Indiana and West Virginia are considered more important that entrepreneurial jobs as artists, dancers, musicians and writers. In Trumpland, coal is more important to international commerce and American First thinking than say, ideas.

From the early remarks on Capitol Hill, no one is taking the budget document too seriously. Republicans are making the best of it, looking at it as one might a basic cookbook, for direction, not dinner. And Democrats are quick to yip that, as predicted, the budget aims venom at the nation’s most vulnerable. Pretty much all are saying it’s more like an interesting book (Really! This is Trump, who doesn’t seem to read!) than a map to spending.

At best, the budget plan is being received as a guide—a very expensive guide— to pour more money into the best-equipped military in the world “to make it more lethal,” as the president said. But there is no way that they intend to spend the country into the deepest debt ditch ever proposed.

Even with its spending cuts, the White House “projects a large gap between government spending and tax revenue over the next decade, adding at least $7 trillion to the debt over that time. In 2019 and 2020 alone, the government would add a combined $2 trillion in debt under Trump’s plan,” The Washington Post reported.

Among other things, the White House even projects that tax receipts will be $200 billion lower in the next year than forecast, even though it had promised that his tax plan would fully pay for itself. Still, the budget assumes more aggressive economic growth that might seem wise in the same week as a 10% stock market “correction.”

Generally, the plan finds programs not to like within the Medicare umbrella, and eliminates whole classes of payments for things like whether doctors can be reimbursed for having an office in a hospital if they don’t. (That probably will save several trillion right there.) The food stamp cuts are more difficult to explain away; it seems to be straight punishment for being poor. I guess the idea is that everyone will be offered a job, likely at minimum wage, so they won’t need food stamps, and a tax credit for childcare, which doesn’t do much good if you can’t pay the babysitter today.

Politico reported that as the federal health program is one of the fastest-growing drivers of the national debt, Trump’s budget proposed a slew of vague reforms including improvements to “drug pricing and payment policies” and “government-imposed provider burdens.” These include allowing we seniors to luxuriate longer in the “donut hole” of coverage before substantial coverage can kick in. Last year, Politico said, Medicare was mentioned just 10 times in Trump’s budget. This year, the program is mentioned more than 100 times.

The budget also attacks federal workers’ pay, proposing a set of workforce reductions through stripping of various employee protections, and tying pay to performance bonuses rather than automatic pay raises, again with billions considered excess payment.

Some critics noted that the budget crosses out at least two campaign promises—to balance the budget, a standard Republican vow, and to preserve Medicare from any cuts. Trump was adamant about it, even saying the future of the nation was dependent on doing so. Given that he is quick to point out those campaign vows he has kept, you might think he’d have some explaining to do to show voters the light of his new thinking. He even bragged about being able to wipe out the $20 trillion national debt. Forget about that now.

He used the day to also showcase his non-planned infrastructure approach, which offers $100 billion against $1.5 trillion of spending, if only states, cities and private companies will pick up the tab. Among other things, the president also indicated that it wants to sell off federal assets, including Reagan National and Dulles International airports and two major parkways serving the Washington region, as well as power assets around the country.

So, the president sees a lot more spending with a willingness to go far into debt to do so. Where he does find savings is generally in places that will hurt people while protecting businesses.

If this were his managerial candidate test, I wouldn’t hire him.

February 13, 2018