The budget (proposal) from hell

1) To be clear, presidents propose budgets.  Congress makes budgets.  There will be big changes from what Trump proposed.

2) That said, budgets are a sign of priorities.  And Trump’s priorities are mean and stupid.  Oh so mean and oh so stupid.  But, he’s strong!  And, of course, he’ll make America great again.

3) Totally great idea to cut federal spending on medical research and the Centers for Disease Control.  I really cannot see any possible benefit from the government investing in such areas.

4) Alysa Rosenberg’s headline captures this part, “Targeting the arts is the laziest, stupidest way to pretend to cut the budget.”

I suppose I ought to take any sign that the Trump administration will operate by the normal rules of politics, rather than the spontaneous outbursts that defined his campaign and transition, as a good thing. But sometimes the regular beats of politics are stupid, and the early word on Trump’s first budget suggests that he’s going to use one of the dumber Republican fig leaves: pretending that eliminating the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities and privatizing the Corporation for Public Broadcasting are serious parts of a serious effort to cut the federal budget.

First, there’s the matter of the numbers. The National Endowment for the Arts requested a budget of $149.849 million for fiscal year 2017, while the National Endowment for the Humanities asked for $149.848 million. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting’s funding for fiscal years 2017 and 2018 is $445 million annually.

The total of $744.7 million is a tiny fraction of President Obama’s $4.15 trillion budget request. It’s less than half of what Jared Kushner paid for 666 Fifth Avenue in 2006. It’s only slightly more money than the $713 million in loans Trump reported that he holds in his public financial disclosures. It’s less than four times the $200 million in donations Trump’s nominee to be education secretary, Betsy DeVos, and her family have contributed to the Republican Party. Anyone who pretends that this is a particularly meaningful amount of money and that getting rid of it would be a serious step toward shrinking the federal government is trying very, very hard to delude the public.

Oh, I don’t know how much pretending this is a serious budgetary reform this is.  But, come on, arts are stupid and for liberal, coastal elitists.

5) Yglesias:

But Trump’s rhetoric, and now his spending blueprint, don’t just push back against techno-utopianism. They constitute a denial of the obvious truth that a prosperous society is necessarily going to be one that is evolving and changing over time.

Most Americans work in the service sector, and that was true 20 or 40 years ago, too. And even within the goods-producing sector, today’s highly paid jobs require more skills and training than their 1976 counterparts did. The country as whole, meanwhile, needs to continually develop whole new industries (generation, storage, and transmission of clean energy seems like the obvious candidate to me) to create new opportunities for new generations of people just as it did in the past.

One of the main things that was good about the “good old days” is that they were a time of massive progress, expansion of higher education opportunities into the middle class and rapid development of new products and cures. This happened while the government invested more — not less — on health, education, science, and regional development.

Trump’s budget acknowledges none of that. It slashes funding for medical research, for physical sciences, and for scholarship and culture generally. It cuts deeply into education and training programs it regards (oftentimes wrongly) as ineffective or poorly evaluated. But it only puts a fraction of that money back into other ones it likes better, while crushing science programs that Trump’s own Cabinet was praising earlier this month.

6) OMB director Mulvaney literally says that cutting “meals on wheels” and similar programs is “compassionate.”  Also, he lied, and says these programs don’t work.  They do.

7) To be fair to Trump, these truly gross cuts to the poor and most vulnerable are not particularly Trumpian, but very much in the mainstream of Republican (“hammock for the poor”) thinking.  It’s quite unlikely they will be as extreme as Trump suggests, but suggesting such extreme cuts tells us who’s side Trump is really on (as if there were ever any doubt).

Trump the populist?

Greg Sargent asks, “Has Trump fallen into Paul Ryan’s trap” with the sort-of premise that Trump ever actually meant any of his populism.  Insofar as being racist and xenophobic and anti-free trade is populist, than yes, Trump is a genuine populist.  On the rest of it, so transparently empty rhetoric.  Sargent:

The story of the morning is that the GOP health plan may be in trouble, because even allies of President Trump are warning him to ditch it before he gets dragged down along with it. The alarm they are sounding is simple: By embracing Paul Ryan’s plan, which would dramatically slash taxes on the richest Americans while massively rolling back coverage for the poorest Americans, he is losing touch with the “populist” message and ideological heterodoxy that helped drive his appeal to working-class voters.

Here’s why this is important: It lays down a marker with which we can evaluate whether Trump is actually governing as the “populist” he telegraphed he would be. If Trump does not cut Ryan’s plan loose, we should theoretically be able to agree that in some key respects, the brand of populism he ran on during the campaign was pure fraudulence — by the lights of his own allies. [emphasis mine]

I mean, seriously, is there any question whatsoever that most of Trump’s populism was pure fraudulence?  Mr. “drain the swamp” populating his appointments with billionaires, Goldman Sachs employees, and Washington insiders?  His transparent support of a tax plan that is a massive redistribution towards the wealthy?  His health care populism of more coverage, better coverage, for less money was never anything but unicorns and rainbows.

The free market health care fantasy

Erik Erikson with a NYT Op-Ed to show that he can talk the conservative talking points on health care just fine, but has pretty much no clue how the health care marketplace works:

Instead, they should focus on cost.

If Republicans stopped worrying about how many people had access to a government-managed health care program and started focusing on reducing costs, they could potentially increase the number of people covered. Doing so would necessitate scaling back the government’s involvement in health care, reducing insurance mandates, unleashing free-market competition among insurance providers and allowing consumer choice in selecting plans.

Increasing competition and choice would lower prices for all kinds of insurance. Lower prices would free up corporate dollars for other things like innovation and jobs. Lower prices would also make it far more affordable for Americans to buy their own insurance than wait for government to subsidize it.

No.  Simply no.  This is what conservative ideologues who don’t actually understand health care policy (i.e., almost all of them) think.  This is not reality.

Sarah Kliff and Ezra Klein had an absolutely tremendous article on health care yesterday that covered an extraordinary amount of ground.  It’s worth half a dozen blog posts.  For present purposes, it nicely explained how every other advanced nation spends less on health care than us.  It’s not more free markets:

The reason American health care is expensive is because when we go to the doctor, it costs more than when someone in Canada or England or France or any other developed nation goes to the doctor.

Other developed countries use price controls in medicine. The government negotiates with drug companies and device makers and doctors to set lower prices. The government is buying in bulk, and has the power to win those negotiations. These countries regulate medical prices akin to how they regulate the price of electricity or water: a service that everyone needs at reasonable price, but would face significant difficulty bargaining for on their own.

I’ve said it before I’ll say it again.  Free markets are great, where they work.  And the overwhelming evidence is that through most of the health care marketplace, free markets are not particularly effective.


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