Donald Trump woke up on Friday, March 23, and realized that a deficit-ballooning $1.3 trillion “omnibus” spending bill was awaiting his signature. The law increases defense spending, but otherwise completely fulfills the spending priorities of the Democratic minority. Some have even said that the omnibus was “Barack Obama’s budget.”
Suddenly distressed by the “crazy” bill (doubtless due to something he saw on television), the president snorted and pawed the ground. He threatened to veto the measure, panicking Washington for a few hours (most members of Congress had already left town for spring recess) until aides were able to summon Defense Secretary James Mattis to talk Trump off the ledge.
He signed it.
It fully funds Planned Parenthood. It increases outlays for Pell Grants and Head Start, and boosts funding for the Department of Labor and the Department of Education not only above the requests Trump had made, but above the levels in Obama’s last budget. It fails to deregulate the private health insurance market or to reform federal permitting rules on construction projects. Not a single agency was eliminated, though Trump’s original budget proposal had called for 18 to be scrapped. It makes no changes to entitlement programs, and oh, here’s something interesting, it actually forbids construction of a border wall in the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge in the Rio Grande Valley — the very place Trump supposedly wanted to begin construction.
From a conservative perspective, there was almost nothing to like in this budget. Yet, what did Trump single out as the reason he was miffed? Leaving “800,000+ DACA recipients totally abandoned by the Democrats.”
Okay. Look, the premise of Trump’s entire campaign was that he was a brilliant deal-maker, and a real boss who knew how to get things done. But he hadn’t a clue as to how to develop a budget and achieve his priorities through the legislative process.
The president posed as the wounded party in this charade. Somehow a “crazy” process had landed a grotesque bill on his desk. He vowed that he would never sign another one. But did he make a single speech about the budget? Did he hold White House events, capture the news cycle (he IS good at that) on behalf of his legislative priorities, or parlay with Democrats to iron out compromises? Did he tweet about spending? Not exactly. Instead of carefully crafting a responsible budget that would begin to reduce deficits and debt, what was Trump doing? He was firing his secretary of state via tweet, feuding with his attorney general, holding campaign-style rallies, firing his lawyers, exchanging schoolyard taunts with Joe Biden that are beneath the dignity of the average 13-year-old, and congratulating Vladimir Putin on his “victory.”
During the presidential campaign, Trump had lambasted the Obama administration for the immense debt over which it presided, urging that the country needed “someone like me” to sort out the mess. The debt, Trump promised, would be eliminated “over a period of eight years.”
As for the Republicans in Congress, a few voiced objections to the morbidly obese budget. “It just boggles my mind that we continue to spend at a level that’s no different than the last three or four years of the Obama administration,” marveled Rep. Mark Walker (R., N.C). But most Republicans had little difficulty quieting their consciences and voting for a bill that a Heritage Foundation analyst acknowledged “supercharges our growth in deficits and the debt.”
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan used to bring charts explaining the risk of a debt crisis to his town-hall meetings. During the 2012 campaign, he used the “debt clock” as a prop, noting that it was not a “scorecard” and warning that “the debt will weigh down our country like an anchor.”
That Paul Ryan hasn’t been seen in some time.
Mitch McConnell warned in 2011 that “spending and debt” was “the nation’s biggest problem.” That McConnell has also been AWOL. If anyone knows of their whereabouts, please contact the authorities.
But alas, we have no authorities. Republicans have used their control of both branches to enact a huge tax cut without offsetting spending reductions, to increase domestic discretionary spending to levels that delight Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi, and to leave entitlements — the great drivers of unsustainable debt — untouched.
Both parties and the people who elected them are marching straight off a completely avoidable financial cliff.
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— Mona Charen is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.