What is more concerning: a budget proposal that would expand the federal deficit to $1.1 trillion, or the fact that no one seems to care?
The White House’s 2020 budget proposal, which landed with a “thunk” on the desks of Congress Monday, was quickly condemned as a nonstarter.
But the proposal is just that — a proposal — and is apt to change dramatically before Congress approves next year’s spending bills. It’s better seen as a roadmap for the administration’s agenda and what it prioritizes.
Through that lens, two things become clear: The president’s budget has elements worth pursuing, but the justification for those ends is fiscally irresponsible.
The specifics of the $4.7 trillion plan include increasing military spending by 5 percent, increased spending to support the administration's trade agenda, as well as more money to fund efforts against China, Russia, Islamic State and “rogue states.” It also calls for $8.6 billion to fund a border wall.
To support the increases, the budget asks for an overall 5 percent cut to nondefense spending. Specifically, it would pull $22 billion out of welfare programs such as food stamps and Medicaid while imposing work requirements.
The Environmental Protection Agency funds would see a 31 percent reduction, and the Education Department budget would see a 12 percent cut.
Overall, approving the budget as-is would expand the federal deficit to more than $1 trillion in the next fiscal year. That’s bad policy, especially for an administration under which the deficit has increased 77 percent in just this budget year.
But that isn’t ruffling the feathers of many in Washington. "The president doesn't care. The leadership of the Democratic Party doesn't care," said former Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H.
While Democrat Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont was quick to declare the budget “dead on arrival and divorced from reality,” it’s more likely that Democratic opposition hinges on the politics of immigration and safety nets rather than a concern for keeping the country in good fiscal health.
Which once more begs the question: Where have the deficit hawks gone?
Not long ago, members of both parties made decisions based on the amount of money the country had in hand and projections of what those choices would do to the future debt. Years of unchecked spending, combined with increasingly divisive politics, has molded an environment in which political winning comes at any cost.
But basic money management is clear: You can’t spend what you don’t have. The 2020 budget ought to be a time to reconsider America’s spending habits. It should be a time to educate the country on the dangers of deficit spending and wasteful oversight.41 comments on this story
Instead, lawmakers will likely squabble about disparate agendas and arrive at October with little compromise, potentially pitching the country into another government shutdown or approving stop-gap spending bills that only postpone the inevitable and never fix the underlying problem.
The smart move is to worry less about what the president wants in his budget and focus more on using the next seven months to find viable solutions to reduce the deficit. It may take some painful introspection to determine where money can be diverted and what doesn’t deserve a budget increase, but the country’s bank account will be better for it.