Trump Needs to Start Cutting Entitlements

Posted: Apr 24, 2017 12:18 PM
Trump Needs to Start Cutting Entitlements

Congress must act by Friday to fund the federal government for the balance of Fiscal Year 2017 or face another embarrassing shutdown. Any deal requires 60 votes to pass the Senate and the whole process illustrates how unrealistically the administration, Democrats and moderate Republicans approach budget priorities.

In negotiations, Budget Director Mick Mulvaney is advancing President Donald Trump’s FY 2018 and longer-term budget priorities—more resources to modernize the military and for border security—including his controversial wall along the Mexican border—and to pay for those with dramatic cuts in discretionary spending.

In addition, the administration would like more flexibility to withhold funding from sanctuary cities.

For the Democrats, money for the wall and penalizing sanctuary cities are nonstarters.

Considering Trump supporters along the Southwest border see the proposed edifice as largely ineffective and would prefer additional money be spent on fencing where still needed, increased border patrols, and technologies like drones, moderate Republicans are likely to acquiesce to Democrats on those issues in final negotiations.

Trump would do well to de-escalate his rhetoric, emphasize more effective border control, and eventually abandon the wall, much as he has ripping up NAFTA.

On sanctuary cities, the real issue is federal primacy in setting immigration policy and escalating conflicts between the objectives of federal and local law enforcement.

Instead of passing laws and issuing executive orders to rescind funding—which local Democratic officials can challenge in courtrooms with liberal judges—the Justice Department should challenge local practices defying federal immigration enforcement in federal court. It could then pick venues with judges more friendly to its positions, but it will all end up in the Supreme Court anyway.

Pursuing these issues through the budget process is wrongheaded.

Neither Democrats nor Republicans want another government shutdown. Trump will likely get some money to begin modernizing the military but Democrats will want that matched by additional funds for domestic programs.

The Congressional Budget Office already projects the federal deficit spinning out of control over the next decade, and the Peterson Institute warns that U.S. debt held by foreigners would then reach unsustainable levels—a Greek-style crisis is a real risk.

Since at least President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society, Democrats have been getting elected by delivering new and bigger entitlement programs from Medicaid to ObamaCare. And by sending to the states federal largess, through entities like the Appalachian Regional Commission and Community Development Block Grants.

Entitlement programs often reward undeserving beneficiaries. For example, the millions of men ages 25 to 54 who neither work nor seek employment but qualify for food stamps and Medicaid, plus many of the one-in-20 adults who now qualify for social security disability.

Without any changes in existing programs, entitlements and interest on the national debt will consume virtually all federal tax revenue by 2027. Then Washington will have to raise taxes to levels that absolutely cripple business and growth, let wither the military and vital civilian services, or impose draconian cuts on social security and assistance to the truly needy.

Entitlements and interest on the debt already consume about two thirds of the $4 trillion in federal spending, with defense and discretionary spending approximately splitting the balance. Instead of taking aim at entitlements to rebuild the military, Trump’s budget chooses to gut the latter—slashing the good as well as the bad.

For example, most elements of the 19 regional commissions, agencies and partnerships, and other programs slated for elimination have outlived their purposes. Much of what the Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Education and other agencies spend represents federal regulatory overreach, and cutting their appropriations would translate into fewer bureaucrats in the faces of ordinary Americans and pulling on the shirt tails of job-creating businesses.

However, slashing federal support for medical research, other R&D and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration when the nation faces competitive challenges from China and climate change—whatever its causes—makes little sense.

Entitlements are where the money is. The president’s budget priorities should challenge Democrats and Republicans alike with the hard fact that the nation can no longer afford to subsidize the indolent along with the truly needy while shortchanging national defense and the legitimate civilian functions of a global power.