Once again the headlines are blaring alarms. This time, the stories are (allegedly) full of news about Donald Trump’s proposed budget.
To begin with, I’d like to mention in passing that his intent to slash services is not news. We knew it already; it’s merely him keeping his campaign promises. Which, admittedly, is unusual for politicians in general, but Mr. Trump has kept a fair number so far, so this isn’t all that surprising. For it to be news, it must be new.
The most recent scare is also the perennial one: the slashing of the public broadcasting budget right alongside that of the National Endowment for the Arts. Note that almost every Republican budget places cuts here and every Democrat howls at the way they’re declaring war on Big Bird (as though Sesame Street weren’t a massive earner and entirely unfunded by tax dollars already).
As our favorite fictional Newsroom anchorman once observed, the NEA is a perennial loser. It’s only a tiny amount of money and yet the right gets to smack the left around with it anytime they want. Add in public broadcasting and it becomes an automatic losing battle for both sides. And yes, for Democrats the NEA is very probably one of the more important battles from a symbolic standpoint. Public broadcasting too is important in that it keeps the federal government involved in the broadcast industry. It gives them a stake and provides context — that context which is so essential to provide a basis for criticism. NPR sets the industry standard for journalistic ethics. It creates that bar so many others fail to live up to. And yes, it has a decidedly left bias; studies also show lots of education grants the same thing. It’s neither good nor bad; it merely is.
Of course, the media is shouting in alarm at these and other proposed cuts. The proposed massive decrease in spending on government programs is shocking people both on left and right, which may surprise some. But those sounding the clarion call are seemingly unaware that they share common cause with even those on the furthest extreme from them on the political spectrum. They shout about how Republicans are the enemy without acknowledging that the movements both to cut spending and to retain programs each embrace large numbers on both sides of the aisle.
What most people fail utterly to realize is that this budget, guaranteed unpopular on all sides, is likely to be the most hotly contested of recent years — this in a time when the memory of the harsh battles under President Obama are still fresh. In fact, Congressional leaders of both parties pronounced it Dead On Arrival even before it was released.
It would beggar the imagination to presume that Mr. Trump is unaware of this. As such, we must conclude that this budget proposal will in fact not be a direct proposal as such, but rather the opening stage of a complex negotiation. It will be, as a result of this, more extreme and more alarming than otherwise, so brace yourselves. We can thus expect greater discussion in the press and far more alarm by the pundits. All of which is essentially meaningless if, as expected, no budget is in fact passed, because we will instead be seeing yet another continuing resolution in a long string of them.
As I’ve written elsewhere, the parliamentary trick which is the continuing resolution provides us with no improvement but rather a gradual decline in the efficiency of government in general. As a tool of fiscal policy it is at best a bludgeon. It never permits modification, merely a gradual increase as each petty bureaucratic fiefdom uses it as a lever with which to pry additional funds and power away from the central government and from each other. It is not a tool by which great fixes or minor repairs or qualitative improvements can ever be imposed.
Given the inevitable arguments and disagreements over the budget proposal, it is almost inconceivable to seriously consider any positive results before the next scheduled budget crisis on the 28th of April. That is when the current funding authorization runs out and either a continuing resolution or a new budget will be essential. And the question becomes this: If not this budget, if not another proposed (by whom?), what then will we do? What can we accomplish without a plan?
So will there be an alternate plan? Or will we only see further obstruction and, at the end, stubborn resistance? We have in front of us the same opportunity we always do: to solve many of our present problems, and possibly even to bring both sides of the aisle together on a compromise plan. But will we see that, or yet one more instance of our government spending their time not governing?
Understand: I’m not suggesting Congress accepts the Administration’s proposal without debate, discussion, and alteration. Instead, I propose the opposite: It should be read, digested, fully understood and discussed, and then modified to make it reasonably acceptable to a large percentage of the members of each house. Note that there is no requirement nor even any implied benefit for a budget that’s only narrowly acceptable by the members and by the President; what we as a nation, I believe, would dearly love to see would be a bipartisan budget passed by enough of Congress that it would be veto-proof. Failing that, a major compromise could be managed such that most Republicans and a fair tithe of Democrats would be able to vote for.
We aren’t asking for perfect government here. But we would like to see functioning government. It’s not all that much to ask.
(To read the complete document containing the Administration’s budget proposal, follow this link to the White House copy.)