Budget? What Budget?
President Trump has spent much of this Congressional Spring Break ( euphemistically referred to in the Congressese language as a recess) ignoring domestic matters in favor of flip-flopping on foreign affairs issues and displaying his version of militaristic decisiveness by blowing up stuff in Syria and Afghanistan while threatening to do likewise in North Korea. When Congress returns to duty once more, it will resume its seeming never-ending quest to bring the federal government to the brink of a shutdown without actually doing so. This year, they could achieve a rarity – shutting down the government despite having GOP majorities in both Houses of Congress while also having a GOP President in the White House (when he’s not hobnobbing with other rich folks and golfing at his Florida resort).
Don’t even try the old “The GOP doesn’t have a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate” argument. Not after the stunt they pulled getting Gorsuch confirmed to the Supreme Court. They follow the rules when it suits them and change them when that allows them to get their way. There should not have been an open seat available for Gorsuch yet. Period. At any rate, there have been ways around the 60-vote cloture in dealing with budget matters for years before this incident. The recent failure of the GOP House majority to pass a horrid repeal and replace bill for the Affordable Care Act may indicate that other legislation may also face rough sledding in that body.
The initial budget outline sent by the White House to Congress (prior to all the non-investigative investigations dealing with potential Russian tampering with the election last November) has been termed a non-starter by most of the Congressional leadership. Trump calls for a huge increase in military spending to coincide with massive spending cuts in virtually every other area of discretionary spending in the budget. Foregoing butter in favor of bullets has a long tradition in GOP Administrations at least as far back as the Ronald Reagan era. The President should not need Democratic support for this budget, and surely should not expect any. There is absolutely nothing in this budget for most Americans to be enthusiastic about. In fact, many of the GOP opponents who scuttled the health care bill will also oppose this blueprint on similar grounds – the numbers don’t add up to anything close to a balanced budget.
One major problem with the Trump/Ryan health care attempt was the blatant move to drastically reduce taxes for the wealthiest Americans at the expense of the people who were being helped the most by the Affordable Care Act – exposing millions of Americans who received affordable health insurance for the first time to the prospect of losing it once again. Unfortunately, that wasn’t what ultimately defeated the bill, as members of the House Freedom Caucus (Tea Party by another name) were set to vote it down because it wasn’t draconian enough to poor or sick people.
The overall budget is far more complex than the health care package (which our President thought was difficult enough, to his surprise, thank you very much). Taxing spending and setting priorities are intertwined in a morass so complex it has in recent years only jelled enough to limp through year after year a few months at a time without being revisited for a new infusion of spending and taxing authorizations. Usually, agreements can be passed without interruption in government services, but not always. As is often the case, a debt ceiling is also being reached which also needs to be dealt with. Budget hawks love to use situations like this to impose harsh austerity measures which inordinately negatively affect those groups they care least about – those who do not contribute to their campaigns and/or vote for them.
Donald Trump’s campaign rhetoric and Paul Ryan’s consistent budget vision from the time he was chair of the House Budget Committee are utterly incompatible. Ryan has wanted for years to gut Medicare and Medicaid. Trump promised not to do so. Why Trump ever decided to back that piece of crap health care legislation is beyond me. Apparently Trump saw an easy way to get votes and took it, never really intending to implement policies which would help his core supporters in any tangible way. Even now, he is threatening make health care subsidies weaken to the point of making what he calls Obamacare collapse, along with most of the coverage gains and affordability that came with it, unless he can get Democratic support for “his” plan.
As for this coming budget season, the fact that Congress chose to return from another unnecessarily long recess in time to face a self-imposed four day deadline to avert yet another government shutdown is an act of utter legislative malpractice. Not only are most GOP legislators doing their utmost to avoid facing their own constituents in the wake of their health care fiasco, they are just letting the clock tick away on any chance of getting real work done on the budget – or anything else for that matter. They also seem content to let President Trump go his merry way with his potentially dangerous and extravagantly costly military adventurism abroad with absolutely no Congressional oversight. It almost seems as if our legislative bodies are content to let Trump rule by Executive Order as much as is Constitutionally possible.
Donald Trump came to power on pledges to make America Great Again. He promised to bring back good paying jobs that had been sent abroad due to faulty trade deals and poor tax and regulatory practices here at home. Every action that has occurred so far has been in the direction of reducing regulations in a manner detrimental to the health and welfare of the very workers whose support he sought and received. His budget proposals, such as they are, do nothing to improve the economy or living conditions for the vast majority of the American people – they will depress wages, worsen working conditions and lessen future prospects for all a few of those not already belonging to the most privileged among us. Continuing trickle-down economic policies and deflecting criticism of domestic failures by pouring huge amounts of money into endless foreign conflicts allows for the continuation of economic policies which have created reverse Robin Hood conditions in this country for decades.
The only serious budget proposals I have seen in recent years that attempt to serve the needs of the people in this country rather than the plutocrats and oligarchs who have come to dominate both our governmental institutions and the airwaves have been presented by the Congressional Progressive Caucus. These People’s Budgets usually fail to get support from more than even a minority of Democratic House members or Senators. President Obama came up with proposals which would have been far better than those presented by Trump and Ryan, but these were mostly ignored by Congress as well. Stop serving Wall Street and start serving Main Street. That’s the only way to serve democracy, turn your empty rhetoric into real progress and get your approval ratings out of the dumpster. Trump, Ryan and McConnell claim they are trying to do one thing – improve our lives and make the world safe from evil – while acting in the same manner as they always have, which continues to accomplish exactly the opposite.
We, The People, currently have little real support in Washington, DC and most state capitals. We need to use our voices and demonstrate that our so-called leaders must recognize our dissatisfaction and act to alleviate the causes of our discontent – not just glad-hand us during election campaigns and ignore us all the rest of the time. Executive Orders banning people from coming here will not replace passage of comprehensive immigration laws. Lowering taxes on the wealthy and letting them underpay, mistreat or otherwise exploit their employees will not make this country great, nor will curtailing our rights and liberties in order to limit legitimate dissent and diversity of views and lifestyles. The current administration is not draining the swamp, it is wallowing in it. Urge them to stop and turn things around before they do even more damage than they have already.
Further Suggested Readings: