The $4.4 trillion budget Donald Trump proposed this week is, in many ways, a typical Republican budget. It gives money to areas and agencies Republicans feel are important – most notably defense – while cutting money to safety net programs like housing, food stamps and health care.
Trump’s budget also is like any budget, Republican or Democrat. It’s a political document more than a working one, a wish list that provides signals to the Republican base and suggestions to the Republican Congress about the president’s priorities. Congress, of course, has final say over spending, and Republicans have been reluctant to make domestic cuts as deep as Trump wants. Don’t expect that to change this year, especially with midterm elections approaching.
For that reason, it’s wise for Americans not to get too fretful about proposals that will generate more heat than they deserve. So it is, for example, with the president’s desire to slash food stamps and replace them with a program that delivers boxes of canned and boxed food to low-income families. Budget director Mick Mulvaney called it a “Blue Apron-type program,” a meal delivery label that was met with quick backlash from critics who noted that Blue Apron offers both fresh food and choices, neither of which comes with Trump’s proposal.
No matter. The problem with the Trump budget isn’t that he’s pitching an impractical Blue Apron-lite to the poor. It’s that he’s offering a Happy Meal to the rich.
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Trump’s plan is one Republicans should know is bad for them. It dangles all the tasty items conservatives like without the austerity they’ve claimed as one of their guiding principles. The budget runs annual deficits, including $984 billion in the next year alone, that could add $7 trillion to the debt over the next decade.
This editorial board has long called for attentiveness to the debt, regardless of which party is in power. Used to be, Republicans agreed, and they welcomed difficult but legitimate conversations about the limits of what government should spend. Now, key Republicans are shrugging at the prospect of ballooning deficits, instead claiming that economic growth from tax cuts will bring in enough revenue to offset their initial pocket-emptying.
It’s important to note that Republicans from George W. Bush to Ronald Reagan have long made similar claims while running up deficits – and that it has never worked out the way they said it would. But rarely have Republicans so explicitly dismissed the danger of deficits and debts as we’re seeing today, including with the tax cut bill they passed in December and a spending bill they and Democrats passed earlier this month.
It’s yet another example of how the president has molded his party into something Republicans a generation ago – or even a decade ago – would find more difficult to recognize. It is a party that has moved far to the right on legal and illegal immigration, that wants steeper cuts to programs that help the struggling, and that is dismantling critical environmental protections that past Republicans grudgingly acknowledged were necessary.
It’s a party with more of the harshness and less of the responsibility. It’s Donald Trump’s party now.