Unfair and Unbalanced

Jewish Light Editorial

The $4.1 trillion budget request unveiled by President Donald Trump’s administration last week came in a document optimistically but  misleadingly labeled “A New Foundation for American Greatness.”

As inspiring as that title is designed to be, the devil, as usual, can be found in the budgetary details, and the story there is quite different. Whatever greatness it might bring would be severely limited in scope. For Americans who need help the most, great is far from the word for its potential impact.

The proposed budget fails miserably on two counts: It would drastically shortchange the most vulnerable members of American society — many of whom are the reason Trump is in the White House in the first place — and the dollar projections would fall far short of reaching the conclusion the administration portrays.

First, the faulty financial logic: tax cuts that supposedly would not reduce federal revenue, to be offset by an estimated increase in economic growth that is much larger than most economists think is likely to occur. The “rising tide raises all boats” philosophy is swamped by unrealistic assumptions.

One example highlighted by many budget critics is the number $2.1 trillion. At one point, the administration blueprint says increased economic growth will add that amount to federal revenue. But elsewhere, it says the same amount will be required to offset a reduction in revenue from tax cuts that largely benefit upper-income earners. In other words, the same money is counted twice.

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Lawrence Summers, a former federal treasury secretary and president of Harvard University, called the figures “the most egregious accounting error in a presidential budget in the nearly 40 years I have been tracking them.”

How the proposed tax cuts are structured highlights just one of the ways that the Trump budget skews toward helping the rich while hurting the poor. Spending cuts make the plan a painful double-edge sword.

In his presentation, Mick Mulvaney, the administration’s budget director, insisted that the spending plan would not shred the nation’s safety net — crucial programs such as Medicare/Medicaid and Social Security. Instead, he implied that people who don’t really need federal funds are taking unfair advantage of Washington.

“We are not kicking anybody off of any program who really needs it,” Mulvaney said. “We have plenty of money in this country to take care of the people who need help. We don’t have enough money to take care of people, everybody who doesn’t need help.” 

But a quick list of the programs that would be eviscerated under the Trump budget shows how devastating the spending plan could be for food stamps, Medicaid, welfare, child tax credits, earned-income tax credits, Social Security disability payments and student loan support, not to mention environmental protection, medical and scientific research and public broadcasting.

The 2014 demographic study conducted by Jewish Federation of St. Louis showed that in our community, 24 percent  of households “cannot make ends meet” or are “just managing” financially. It reported that 8 percent of Jewish households in St. Louis are poor (under 150 percent of the Federal poverty level, or $35,800 annual income for family of four) and 18 percent are near poor (between 150 to 250 percent  of Federal poverty level, or $59,600 annual income for family of four).

The Jewish community here and the nation as a whole would be hard hit by this draconian budget if passed. 

Increases in areas such as defense spending and homeland security aren’t likely to make those whose daily needs are affected feel any more secure. And attempts to ease the impact by saying many of those programs could be turned over to the states are hardly reassuring, given the lack of compassion shown in many state capitals nationwide. 

Add to those proposed reductions the 23 million people who would lose health care coverage under revisions to Obamacare that were passed by the House, and the picture becomes clear that the people who rely on government’s help the most are the ones who would be hit hardest by proposals being considered in Washington.

That realization, paired with the continued drumbeat of the president’s other controversies, may be dawning even on members of his own party. Republican lawmakers greeted the budget warily, at best, with an eye to its effect on constituents who may be realizing the effects that the White House would have on their daily lives. 

The fact that the budget was made public while the president was overseas may be a clue that the administration doesn’t expect much acceptance or cooperation on Capitol Hill. The praise Trump garnered from his first foreign trip won’t be enough to paper over his problems at home.

The Trump budget is neither fair nor balanced. Congress needs to increase the fairness and introduce reality into its unbalanced, unrealistic financial assumptions.