The Trump budget is just telling the truth—and you can’t handle the truth!
- Trump's budget begins to tell the hard truths to the American people.
- It's a "taxpayer first" plan, which is what any sustainable budget needs to be.
- More harsh truths are needed, but this is a good start.
Tuesday, 23 May 2017 | 12:04 PM ETCNBC.com
America finally has something it's needed for decades: A budget that starts to tell the truth. And some people don't seem to be able to handle the truth. But they need to start.
The truth is coming in the form of the White House budget that calls for major cuts to entitlement programs that are not sustainable, taxes that punish productivity and growth, and the fundamental understanding that politicians cannot be trusted to spend our money.
That is, it at least begins to deliver the truth.
Let's start with what it gets right in the reality department. The screaming headlines are all about that truth right now as every major news outlet has chosen to focus on the cuts the Trump budget makes to food stamps, Medicaid, student loans, and agencies like the EPA and the Department of Education. Do any of those articles or the angry members of Congress quoted in them include anything about how these spending programs are unsustainable as they are now anyway? Do they include any arguments about how the overstretched "safety net" of welfare programs provides aid to too many people who aren't actually poor, thus reducing the amount of funds available for the truly needy? Do they include any of the arguments that so many federal agencies like the EPA and the Education Department aren't truly needed in their current sizes? How about some information on how student loan guarantees from Washington are a major source of tuition inflation?
Don't be ridiculous.
"The unicorns aren't coming, and it's time for our elected leaders to stop pretending only the politically easy-to-cut programs should go."
But the Trump budget does just that by simply calling for those cuts because "ridiculous" is really the best word to describe anyone who thinks continuing to promise the American people unicorns like the massive increases to the budgets of all the above-mentioned programs aren't going to crowd out spending for almost anything else. The truth can be harsh, but ultimately it's kinder than having our presidents and members of Congress continue to lie to us. The unicorns aren't coming, and it's time for our elected leaders to stop pretending only the politically easy-to-cut programs should go.
It's time to stop throwing the word "poor" around like it's nothing. The fact is, way too much of the so-called "safety net" has been stretched to people who are not poor by most definitions and are thus siphoning vital funding away from those who are truly at the economic bottom. Specifically, this problem has manifested itself with the massive expansions in the number of people on food stamps and taking federal disability payments that has not subsided even with the economic recovery coming out of the Great Recession.
This says nothing of the significant fraud in these systems that such a bloated enrollment makes inevitable. 10 percent of Medicaid payments were found to have been improper in 2016 alone, according to the Government Accountability Office. That's $36 billion, for those of you counting at home.
The massive expansions of just about all of the programs the Trump plan seeks to cut have led to a growing number of unemployed people in America who are just getting by on various forms and levels of government assistance. This puts an undue level of new strain on the people who actually are working and paying payroll and other taxes to prop up the rest of the country. Yes, Mitt Romney was roundly pilloried when he complained that 47 percent of the people would never vote for him because they pay no federal taxes. But what part of what Romney said was factually wrong? What part of what he said wasn't indicative of an unsustainable political and economic reality? The Trump budget at least starts to tell us the truth about what benefits can survive even in the short-term future.
And there's another harsh but crucial reality in the Trump budget — it knows where the money comes from. Taxpayers. Somehow, prioritizing the people who actually provide us the money to spend in Washington has been portrayed as selfish or mean.
Now, let's get to what the Trump budget gets wrong. In short, it still isn't "harsh" enough. So far, we have no details of any reforms to the three biggest problems in our budget: Medicare, Social Security, and Defense. No real anti-deficit and pro-taxpayer moves can be made permanent until all three of those programs are reformed and essentially cut. It's not surprising the White House plan doesn't make the hard choices on that three-headed fiscal monster considering it would make the current political firestorm over his other cuts look like a small campfire.
The political class and the news media remains convinced that the public will never accept even the slightest cuts or even any significant changes to those programs, but that's just plain wrong. 41 percent of Americans don't believe that Social Security will even exist when they retire, according to a survey by the Pew Research Center. Are we supposed to believe that they won't stand for changes to a program they don't expect to be around for much longer? Politicians simply don't want to bother to make those tough choices and they're hiding behind the voters to avoid them.
But first things first. You have to start telling the truth somewhere, and the Trump budget does the most truth telling since at least the cut-heavy Reagan budget in 1981 that helped launch a major economic expansion. Our debt is about $20 trillion, and the number of unfunded liabilities coming due in the future have some experts pegging our real debt at more like $200 trillion. There's not enough taxpayer money in the universe to cover those costs.
With these harsh truths in mind, we have to remember that a budget that doesn't make the harsh cuts Trump's does simply isn't realistic. Oh, and there's no such thing as unicorns either.
Commentary by Jake Novak, CNBC.com senior columnist. Follow him on Twitter @jakejakeny.
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