Moneybox

I Am Not Wasting My Time Reading Trump’s Budget. Nor Should You.

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 30:  President Trump's Budget Director, Mick Mulvaney, is interviewed in Statuary Hall at the US Capitol before President Donald Trump's first State of the Union Address before a joint session of Congress on January 30, 2018 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Pete Marovich/Getty Images)
Nobody cares what this man wants to do with the federal budget.
Pete Marovich/Getty Images

The White House released its official budget proposal today. I’m not going to waste my time reading it, and neither should you.

As the cliché goes, presidential budgets are political documents that nobody ever expects to end up enacted into law. The tome team Trump produced last year was mostly a signal to Republicans that the administration wouldn’t object if they tried to slash large pieces of the safety net. It pretended to erase the deficit within 10 years using some obviously fraudulent accounting. This year’s version offers variations on the same themes. It apparently proposes big cuts to social spending—but adds a twist by targeting Medicare. (Maybe that’ll be fodder for a Democratic attack ad.) It differs mostly in that Team Trump has apparently given up on pretending to balance the government’s books, which is a reasonably realistic way to reckon with passing a $1.5 trillion tax cut. Or so people are reporting.

It doesn’t matter. The president already signed a two-year spending deal last week that raised the government’s budget caps by $300 billion, meaning that the pile of tables the White House rolled out today are completely irrelevant to any real-world decision making. Trump’s budget will live on nowhere but perhaps the fervid imagination of White House budget dude Mick Mulvaney, who is now also doing double duty as the acting head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Mulvaney seems to be spending most of his time these days carrying water for payday lenders under his CFPB role rather than dreaming up ways to cut spending on seniors and the poor anyway, so even he might not be spending much time on this one.

To be sure, this thing contains some horrifying nuggets, some of which are filtering onto Twitter. This is the Trump administration after all, an island of misfit toys that regularly dreams up god-awful, half-formed policy ideas aimed at raking money from the poor so that they can spend it on guns and bombs. For instance, the administration has some gnarly plans for the food stamp program, which it’d like to cut by a couple hundred billion dollars.

Micromanaging the poor and turning the food stamp program into even more of an explicit subsidy for American agribusiness! Not good! But the thing is that this, or any other big and terrible idea contained in this budget, will have to get through Congress before it becomes law. And if that becomes a realistic possibility, we’ll hear about it. In meantime, I’m confident that Trump himself didn’t spend a whole lot of time familiarizing himself with this document. You don’t need to either.