The federal government’s financial problems are so large that all parts of the budget -- from entitlements to defense spending to tax breaks -- should be considered “on the table” for fiscal reform discussions.
Comprehensive, lasting reform will require substantial public sacrifice. As responsible elected officials in both parties have long recognized, this burden will need to be widely shared. Proposals that fail to spread the burden lack both mathematical and political credibility.
On that score President Trump’s proposed budget for the coming fiscal year falls short. Many of his fellow Republicans in Congress, to their credit, quickly recognized this and vowed to do better.
Trump gets some credit for specificity in terms of where he would like to reduce spending. But he has proposed extremely deep cuts in some parts of the budget while leaving other parts alone -- and is also calling for tax cuts that are unlikely to “pay for themselves.”
As Concord Coalition Executive Director Robert L. Bixby discussed in a recent blog post, Trump’s budget fails to address the need for fundamental reforms in Social Security and Medicare, two of the key drivers of the projected growth in federal deficits.
In sharp contrast to his handling of Social Security and Medicare, Trump proposed deep cuts in certain programs that largely help the poor -- notably Medicaid and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP or "food stamps") -- as well as environmental programs that enjoy bipartisan support.
The administration has also suggested large cuts in foreign aid, which claims only a small sliver of the federal budget and can sometimes help avoid much more expensive military operations.
These budget proposals have naturally drawn heavy Democratic criticism. But many Republicans on Capitol Hill have made clear that some of the administration’s recommendations are non-starters for them as well, and that a more balanced approach to budgeting and deficit-reduction is needed.
It is not enough, however, for lawmakers to simply highlight the lack of balance and other shortcomings in Trump’s proposed budget. They must follow through on their promises to pass something better, and it will take some bipartisan negotiation and cooperation to do so.
So far, however, Congress is way behind schedule in this year’s budget process. It is time to get moving.