Editorial: Trump’s budget plans are magical thinking at its worst

U.S. President Donald Trump discusses the Federal budget
U.S. President Donald Trump discusses the Federal budget over lunch in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on Feb. 22 in Washington.
(Olivier Douliery / TNS)

The president’s annual budget request is more of a wish list than a blueprint, given that members of Congress routinely ignore most of the initiatives the White House proposes in favor of their own priorities. So the budget outline that President Trump floated this week should be viewed as an opening bid by player who’s about to step away from the game.

Nevertheless, Trump’s proposal is a window into his priorities, and it reveals a sort of reckless abandonment of working-age Americans and their children in favor of the armed forces, defense contractors and retirees.  And like Trump himself, it ignores some of the core values of both Republicans and Democrats, which should guarantee that it will quickly be shunted aside on Capitol Hill. And deservedly so.

The proposal’s major piece is a $54-billion increase in the defense budget, which already consumes more than half of the federal tax dollars not spent on interest payments or entitlements. Inexplicably, the hike would beef up the country’s ability to fight the sort of overseas wars that Trump railed against during the campaign, and would come at the expense of the diplomatic and foreign aid programs designed to avert those conflicts, as well as domestic programs that protect the environment, help the poorest and most vulnerable Americans, and enforce the tax laws.


Although Trump’s outline may not cause the federal deficit to mushroom immediately, it seems to give no thought to how to slow the growth in the federal debt over the long term. In fact, new Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said the president won’t do anything to stabilize entitlement programs, such as Medicare and Medicaid, at least not now. Instead, Trump told Fox News on Tuesday, he’s counting on faster economic growth to solve the deficit problem.

That’s magical thinking. As vital as they may be, entitlements, particularly the ones that provide healthcare to the elderly and the poor, are at the heart of Washington’s long-term spending problem. Of course, Trump just discovered what every other policymaker in Washington already knew — that healthcare is “complicated.” So it won’t be easy to turn the tide of red ink in these programs while preserving their much-needed benefits. But that’s no excuse to punt the burgeoning debt to the next generation.

Trump isn’t the first president to avoid addressing the government’s long-term fiscal problems; Presidents Bush and Obama accomplished little on that front as well. But Trump’s desire to needlessly gin up military spending while slashing vital safety-net programs — not to mention the State Department, which is crucial to avoiding wars — indicates that he has no clue what the nation’s best interests are in the near term too, or how to achieve them. 

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