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Third Time’s the Charm

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The Trump administration unveiled its third budget proposal Monday, and I have to say, it’s courageous. It contains proposals that no other president has dared approach with any degree of seriousness for decades, lest the airwaves be inundated with a never-ending flow of throw-grandma-off-the-cliff political ads in the coming campaign season.

Of course, there’s an issue with this newfound interest in fiscal responsibility. It comes as part of the largest budget in our nation’s history, coming in at a mammoth $4.7 trillion.

In this piece, we’ll go down various budget items and give a clear, concise, no-spin look at what they mean.

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The Boogey Man

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May as well start with the hard stuff, aka the cuts.

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MEDICAID: The proposal would cut $1.5 trillion from Medicaid over a 10 year period, while implementing work requirements and eliminating the Medicaid expansion under ObamaCare. But this is a bit misleading, because there isn’t much of a cut at all. In place of the cut, the budget instead adds $1.2 trillion for a “Market Based Health Care Grant — block grant to states, instead of paying by need. The logic is pretty simple. Give states a set amount of money and they’re likely to spend it more wisely. It’s also worth noting that this is a halt to Obama’s expansion, not really a cut in the Medicaid we had before he used it to make more people government-dependent. Which worked, unfortunately.

MEDICARE: It contains an $845 billion cut to Medicare over 10 years, about a 10% cut total. The administration believes the cuts can be offset by targeting wasteful spending and provider payments and lowering prescription drug costs. This is feasible considering Medicare lost an estimated $60 billion in fraud and abuse just last year. And like Medicaid, this cut relates to expansion more than anything. And oh by the way, — Medicare is due to become insolvent in 2026.

SOCIAL SECURITY: Here comes the real political landmine. The budget seeks to cut $26 billion from Social Security over 10 years, including a $10 billion cut to disability insurance. Like Medicare and Medicaid, the administration argues that much of this cut can be offset by rooting out fraud and abuse, which certainly totals much more than what is being cut. While the proposed cut to SS will certainly have many grannies being thrown off cliffs on CNN screens throughout the country, the truth is the cut isn’t very large and it would only slightly decrease the pace of insolvency for the main fund, which is set to start going broke in 2034. Enjoy it while you have it. My generation likely won’t.

EDUCATION: For the third year in a row, the Trump budget would also cut funding for the Marxist indoctrination bureau known as the Education Department, this time by 10%. Congress has repeatedly rejected efforts to reduce the department’s spending — the Swamp instead increased funding for the department last year. This year’s proposed cuts are also a bit misleading, since there are other items in the proposal that give the Education Dept piles of cash, such as requests for $700 million in school safety initiatives of which the ED gets $200 million. The funding would help schools finance emergency operation plans, counseling and behavioral health programs. None of the money would be used to arm teachers or provide extra firearms of any kind.

FOOD STAMPS: The Supplemental Nutritional Program (SNAP) would get a $225 billion cut over 10 years (the Trump admin really likes that time span), while implementing mandatory work requirements, damnit. The program currently serves around 45 million people, but the administration feels that the small cut they proposed would be largely offset by the number of people leaving the program due to work. Not a bad plan, actually.

STUDENT LOANS: It proposes $207 billion in cuts to the student loan program, eliminating the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program and cutting subsidized student loans. If your kid is about to take on $200K in debt to get a gender studies degree, better make sure they know they could be stuck with the debt. You know, like most people.

LOL@ CLIMATE CHANGE: The tip of the socialist spear known as the EPA, would see a cut of $66 million collection from voluntary climate-change-related partnerships known as the Atmospheric Protection Program that, among other things, helps businesses and local governments track planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions. It also zeros out $19 million that had been devoted to scientific research on climate change. Under a line item called “prioritize robust science,” the agency proposes a cut to $263 million from $481 million. How about a cut to zero. We can’t control the damn weather. Stop being ridiculous.

NO MORE FUNDING LITTLE GAY CARS: The administration requested $31.7 billion for the Energy Department, an 11% drop from current funding. That includes about $696 million for the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, which provides hundreds of millions of dollars in grants each year for research into electric vehicles, battery storage and building efficiency. Here’s the thing — research into electric cars isn’t in itself a bad thing. Everyone loves fuel efficiency. But there are several private sector companies already pouring beaucoup money into the effort, with a very strong profit motive to get it right. When Elon Musk masters the electric car, I promise you’ll know. The odds of a government bureaucrat beating him to it are virtually nil.

MISCELLANEOUS: Overall, there is a 9% cut to non-defense programs, which would hit Section 8 housing vouchers, public housing programs, Head Start, the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) nutrition program, and Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, among others.

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Increases

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All you fiscal hawks shouldn’t get too excited. What the proposal cuts in entitlement spending, it more than compensates for in other areas, mainly defense. And that’s where we’ll start.

DEFENSE: The Military Industrial Complex is seeing a $34 billion increase to meet a $750 billion budget baseline. That’s a 5% boost to defense and military spending overall. To keep the defense budget within current caps, the White House used a slick budgeting maneuver, putting $164 billion of the budget in an uncapped overseas contingency (OCO) fund. The MIP knows how to get its money, folks. Not saying defense isn’t important, but let’s be real here — they have too much power to experience any meaningful cuts. We couldn’t even audit the DoD when PDT took over.

#TheWall: The Donald is requesting at least another $8.6 billion in funding to build more sections of the wall, which should set up another fun little fight. He’s requesting $5 billion in funding for the Department of Homeland Security for wall construction, with another $3.6 billion for the DoD’s military construction budget also for the wall. I suppose it’s smart not to put everything in one basket. Along with renewing the wall funding fight that could very well lead to another partial shutdown ( I shudder the notion), PDT is asking for more Border Patrol and ICE agents, along with a policy change meant to end so-called sanctuary cities. All of these items are wonderful, but it bears repeating that until we change our new, insane asylum law, we’ll continue to get waves of families coming in under complete legal protection. Families now represent over 60% of applicants. That’s what happens when you tell people they’re home free if they just have a kid. When this budget is negotiated in earnest, the Trump administration must put this law on the table or we’ll be spinning our wheels on the border (at best).

VETERANS: The request for the VA was $220 billion — up 9.5% from fiscal 2019, when the agency’s budget surpassed $200 billion for the first time. Nearly $9 billion was proposed to implement the VA Mission Act, major reform legislation that Congress approved last year to expand veterans’ access to private doctors. If you’re more than a half hour away from a VA hospital or your appointment wait is more than 20 days, they’ll send you to a private practice. Pretty neat.

OPIOIDS: The plan does proposes some new funding to fight the opioid crisis, including $245 million over — you guessed it — 10 years. There is debate over whether this is enough, seeing as how the opioid crisis is killing more Americans per year than we lost in the entirety of the Vietnam War. I’m personally skeptical of how much can be achieved with increased government spending, but it’s something we must tackle nonetheless.

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BIG PICTURE

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Now that you’ve so graciously trudged through all that tedious information, guess what — none of it matters! But you knew that.

We have a Democrat-controlled House that will never come close to passing anything remotely close to what the Trump admin has put forth, though there is something to be said for the ole’ opening salvo.

Toothless as the proposal may ultimately be, it puts PDT on the record in terms of priorities, therefore it’s worth examining the political implications of the proposal. There are a couple glaring problems that must be at the forefront of any big picture analysis. For one, while it cuts entitlement spending, it doesn’t cut spending overall. Rather, it breaks a record, which is quite astonishing when one considers the drunken sailor spending our government has adopted as the status quo.

PDT expressly promised on the campaign trail not to touch entitlement spending, specifically as it pertained to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. This proposal serves as ammo for every Democrat presidential nominee seeking to win back the working class Rust Belt voters they lost to Trump in 2016. Like it or not, Trump doesn’t have the typical Republican coalition. He does have a majority of Republican voters, to be sure (88% at last check), but what put him in the White House was the addition of Democrat crossovers in states like Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania; states so taken for granted by Hillary Clinton that she barely bothered to visit.

The problem is, even with the addition of union Democrats, Trump only won the Rust Belt by a mere 70,000 votes spread over several states. That doesn’t leave a great deal of room for error, and (attempted) cuts to entitlement spending could very well wipe that margin out unless the White House communications department works overtime to educate the public on what their proposals mean in the big picture of things. Otherwise, there’s a real risk of a read-my-lips moment here, especially considering what a key demographic senior citizens are for the Trump base.

The other comms challenge will be explaining the disparity in funding across different areas of government. It’s like this — if you’re going to cut entitlements, it at least needs to be in service of an overall shrinking of government. That would actually awaken many sleeping conservative voters who gave up on the government long ago. But this doesn’t do that. Instead, we’re increasing both the debt and deficit merely as a function of priority-shifting. That feeds the Democrat narrative of “screwing the poor,” since it’s demonstrably not about curbing spending.

The Trump admin is making the argument that the budget will balance itself out in 15 years via steady government growth. There will be a lot of pushback on this point, since the admin is expecting 3% growth steadily over the next decade, while outside projections range everywhere from 1.5% to 2.3%. It should be noted, however, that those same prognosticators said Trump wouldn’t reach 3% growth this early in his presidency and he’s proved them wrong for two consecutive years. This is something the White House needs to emphasize.

The argument needs to be made that there is a plan in place and it could work. Because as things stand, the Trump admin has accomplished the rare feat of pissing off both fiscal conservatives and crossover Democrats. This is something that PDT and Sarah Sanders need to take on personally, because speeches from Turtle McConnell on the Senate floor about fiscal responsibility aren’t gonna cut it, #ThatICanTellYou.

Where things will ultimately end up, no one knows. One can reasonably expect Planned Parenthood to be fully funded in exchange for some small amount of cash for a conservative agenda item. Obviously, PDT doesn’t expect to get $8 billion for his wall in the upcoming budget, but it’s reasonable to expect that he’ll go for around $5 billion after the initial highball offer.

I suspect the proposals to cut entitlement spending will go away as a means of securing increased defense spending, precisely the trade that was made the last go-round. PDT will be able to frame it as an instance of listening to his base, although a considerable chunk of his base will be disappointed to see the cuts go.

Make no mistake, this budget is extremely important to the Trump presidency. One can’t ignore the impossible odds he faces dealing with the rabid resisters of the Democrat party, but all the same, some negotiating skill would go a very long way for 2020. There’s 0% chance of pleasing everyone, but a respectable amount of money for the wall could make enough of us happy to knock on some doors in 2020.

Nancy Pelosi has weaknesses, specifically the freshmen congresswomen who humiliate her on a daily basis. It’s up to PDT to seize on this leverage and make Nancy choose between moderate legislating and Twitter mob appeasement.

This is your chance, Mr. President. Let’s #BuildThatWall.

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