Granted, a president's proposed budget is not a document to be taken seriously. It is a wish list, a statement of philosophy, a pro forma execution of what the chief executive considers his duty. Congress controls the purse strings, and when it draws up a budget (if and when it does, of course), it gives the president's wishes about as much weight as the opinion of the barber or a cab driver.
Still, it's fun to delve into what the proposal "means" and what effects it might have if actually enacted. It's one of the most cherished parlor games in politics, so we might as well play along, too.
As far as I can tell from the press coverage, President Trump's proposed budget is the product of a mean, mean man. It is cruel in the way it casually tosses aside the most vulnerable among us. The sickest of the poor will be thrown out of hospitals and nursing homes, their dead bodies piled in the streets like so much garbage. We'll have to pour gasoline on them and set them on fire just to get rid of the traffic obstruction, and the stench will be awful for miles around.
"Trump to propose big cuts to safety net in new budget, slashing Medicaid and opening door to other limits," blares The Washington Post:
President Trump's first major budget proposal on Tuesday will include massive cuts to Medicaid and call for changes to anti-poverty programs that would give states new power to limit a range of benefits, people familiar with the planning said, despite growing unease in Congress about cutting the safety net.
For Medicaid, the state-federal program that provides health care to low-income Americans, Trump's budget plan would follow through on a bill passed by House Republicans to cut more than $800 billion over 10 years. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that this could cut off Medicaid benefits for about 10 million people over the next decade.
"Trump's Budget Cuts Deeply Into Medicaid and Anti-Poverty Efforts," screams The New York Times. That rotten Trump is going to beef up spending for the military and border security, and leave alone Social Security and Medicare for the well-off:
To compensate, the package contains deep cuts in entitlement programs that would hit hardest many of the economically strained voters who propelled the president into office. Over the next decade, it calls for slashing more than $800 billion from Medicaid, the federal health program for the poor, while slicing $192 billion from nutritional assistance and $272 billion over all from welfare programs. And domestic programs outside of military and homeland security whose budgets are determined annually by Congress would also take a hit, their funding falling by $57 billion, or 10.6 percent.
That vile, contemptible little man. And on an on the coverage goes, from Reuters, from USA Today, from CNN, from Time and NPR and CBS . . .
Even conservative and libertarian sites, though obviously of a different opinion about government spending, are reporting mostly the same numbers. "Austerity: Trump budget cuts $3.6 trillion over next decade," says Hot Air. By keeping its promise to stay away from Social Security and Medicare, the administration "pushed OMB to make dramatic cuts in other safety-net programs, slicing nearly $4 trillion off of spending over the next ten years, and potentially setting up a dramatic showdown this fall in Congress."
There's just one slight problem. It's sort of kind of not true. Not even a little bit. It's actually "fake news," of a kind that's been around a lot longer than the Trump administration. It's lazy, complacent, complicit, dishonest reporting by a media that has for decades let Washington get away with brazenly lying about what goes on in the budgeting process.
As you can tell from the chart at the top of the page, Medicaid spending is not "cut" in the Trump proposal. The rate of growth is merely slowed. And you can find further examples of that throughout the budget, and throughout budget proposals of past administrations both Democratic and Republican. A reduction in the rate of growth is called a "cut." It's like I ask for a $100 a month raise and get only a $50 one, so I say my salary has been "cut" by $600 a year. It's like a car dealer considering increasing the price of of a new car by $2,000, then deciding to increase it by only $1,000, and claiming the new car price is "being cut by $1,000."
It's sleazy as hell, but it's business as usual for the federal government, which is why the deficit and the debt can just keep growing and growing, with hardly any effort expended at all.
All thanks to the miracle of the baseline budget:
Since 1974, Capitol Hill’s “baseline” has automatically increased spending every year according to Congressional Budget Office projections, which means before anyone has submitted a budget or cast a single vote. Tax and spending changes are then measured off that inflated baseline, not in absolute terms. …Democrats designed this system to make it easier to defend annual spending increases and to portray any reduction in the baseline as a spending “cut.”
If we're going to debate Trump's or any other budget proposal, let's at least talk about it honestly. For the record, the Bush/Obama federal spending for the last eight years totaled $35.66 trillion. Proposed Trump spending for the next eight years totals $48.90 trillion. Boy, that's some austerity program there.