President Trump’s proposed budget takes a big step towards draining the swamp in Washington. This is the first time since the Reagan era that a president has sought a wholesale demolition of boondoggles. On the other hand, Trump’s defense and homeland security spending increases will squander bounties that should be reserved for taxpayers, not bureaucrats and bombs.
Regardless of whether Trump can cajole Congress into imposing the cuts, Americans should welcome candor on an array of federal programs that should have been decimated or abolished long ago:
The Housing and Urban Development budget takes one of the biggest hits — down $6 billion or 13%. The administration aims to sharply cut spending on rental vouchers that are notorious for redistributing violent crime from public housing projects to previously safe urban and suburban neighborhoods. HUD’s flagship HOME Investment Partnerships Program, which provides grants to states and localities, is also in the budget crosshairs. That program is such a fiasco that HUD was not even aware that hundreds of projects it was bankrolling had not been built until a Washington Post investigation compiled hundreds of aerial photos of empty lots.
Trump calls for abolishing both the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. The vast majority of spending for the arts comes from private pockets. America does not need a culture commissariat to give federal seals of approval to efforts that please Washington bureaucrats. There is no justice in taxing dishwashers in Arkansas to subsidize programs such as Synetic Theater’s Silent Shakespeare — in which actors gyrate and grope in lieu of delivering the richest bounty of the English language.
Trump recommends abolishing federal subsidies for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. When federally financed television and radio began, there were vastly fewer options on the television and radio dial. Considering the bounty that technology is delivering, there is no excuse for spending $445 million a year for news and cultural programming that is consistently biased in favor of Big Government.
According to The Post, Trump wants a 17% cut for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which includes the National Weather Service. The service nowadays prefers to play therapist instead of giving taxpayers the best information available. Last Monday, it realized that it had greatly exaggerated likely snowfalls from winter storm Stella but refused to correct itself because it feared confusing folks. A headline from the Gothamist website summarized that debacle: "National Weather Service: Sorry, you're too stupid to trust with the REAL forecast."
Trump calls for sharply slashing the $1.5 billion budget for Food for Peace, America’s most destructive foreign aid program. For decades, foreign farmers have been bankrupted when US government agencies dump crops in their nations at harvest time. But the program works out well for the farm lobby, the merchant marine and non-profit groups, and its foreign victims have no lobby in Washington.
The homeland security budget proposes to fizzle away billions of dollars on a border wall — a monument to Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign that will have little or no impact on curbing illegal immigration.
On the bright side, the budget favors slashing Urban Area Security Initiative grants — a howler of a program that has paid for a latrine-on-wheels in Texas; sno-cone machines in Michigan; and a "zombie apocalypse" show at a training seminar. Also targeted for cuts is the Transportation Security Administration’s goofily named VIPR program (Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response) — which dispatches TSA teams to pointlessly hassle bus and train passengers in "security theater" at its most absurd.
On the other hand, Trump proposes to devote almost all of the savings from cutting domestic programs into the Pentagon, whose budget would rise by $52 billion, roughly 10%. Since 9/11, the Defense Department has been Washington’s ultimate sacred cow — regardless of how badly US military interventions abroad turned out. A Pentagon advisory panel recently documented $125 billion in bureaucratic waste; Pentagon honchos and their political allies quickly buried that report. The Pentagon Inspector General reported that the Army made $6.5 trillion in erroneous adjustments (Yes,trillions) to its general fund in 2015. At the least, the Pentagon should receive no additional money until it reveals how it spent previous windfalls.
The specter overhanging Trump’s budget is the possibility that he could jettison his campaign promises and plunge the nation more deeply into conflicts in Syria, Afghanistan and elsewhere. If that happens, federal spending could quickly soar out of control as it did in the George W. Bush administration. What is the point of draining the swamp if all the savings are poured down other budgetary rat holes?<
Trump’s budget would be better if it included more corporate welfare targets — such as farm subsidies — on the hit list.
Regardless, his proposals are evoking screams of agony inside The Beltway. A Postarticle fretted that under Trump’s budget, "government would be smaller and less involved in regulating life in America."
Actually, there was an election last November, and the people who did not want their lives micromanaged by federal agencies won.
James Bovard is author of Public Policy Hooligan.
Reprinted with author's permission from USA Today.