The “comic book” budget

Full credit to Dana Milbank, who I think really nails it with that phrase:

Remember Trump’s boast that he would “get rid of the $19 trillion in debt . . . over a period of eight years”?

Odin’s beard! He just hammered that promise to pieces. His budget would add $7 trillion to the debt over a decade — $2 trillion in the next two years alone — and even those numbers are based on the peculiar assumption that the economy will never again go into recession.

Remember Trump’s promise that “I’m not going to cut Medicare or Medicaid” and his boast about being “the first and only potential GOP candidate to state there will be no cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid”?

That promise has gone up, up and away. Trump proposes to cut more than $500 billion together from Medicare — health care for old folks — and Medicaid, which provides health care to the poor.

Remember Trump’s constant “Mexico will pay for the wall” vows?

Cowabunga! His budget made quick work of that promise, requesting 18 billion American dollars for that wall.

And remember just two months ago when the administration said the tax cut would pay for itself and the Treasury Department said it would actually increase tax receipts by $300 billion over 10 years?

Shazam! Quick as a flash, the administration now says tax receipts will be $314 billion lower in 2018, $400 billion lower in 2019 and even $200 billion lower in 2027 when the plan was supposed to be paying for itself.

But the really comic part is the way Trump would offset the big tax cuts for the wealthy and the huge increase for the Pentagon. These range from the villainous — billions of dollars taken from food stamps, college tuition assistance for poor kids and clean-air and clean-water protection — to the absurd — selling off airports and roads and magically saving $139 billion by reducing “improper payments.” Few if any of these will ever happen, so the actual increase in debt will be even greater… [emphasis mine]

This is a comic-book budget — but not a terribly good one. If the president is going to promise the stars and pay with peanuts, couldn’t he at least make it more interesting? If wild promises and unrealistic offsets are the stuff of a good budget, he could do much better:

All Americans of driving age shall be given a Tesla, and all Americans shall be entitled to elite status in a frequent-flier program of their choosing. The cost of this shall be offset by grounding EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke for one month.

And Catherine Rampell nails it in her own succinct headline, “Trump hates deficits — unless they help rich people.”

When are deficits good?

When they fund tax cuts for donors and rich people.

When are deficits “dangerous”?

When they fund health care for poor people and children, training for workers, and infrastructure and other long-term investments in our economy.

That is the worldview of late of the Trump administration, based on the budget proposal it released Monday and recent comments from its chief budget honcho, Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney (who also happens to be working part-time dismantling the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau).

And Drum’s take:

Anyway, here’s the bottom line. Corporations and the rich get a big tax cut. The Pentagon gets a big spending increase. Poor people will get screwed. And even with all the unlikely assumptions and magic asterisks they could think up, the budget deficit will still increase.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is your Republican Party. The party of fiscal discipline.

We’ll just conclude with an actual Joe Biden quote:

“Don’t tell me what you value, show me your budget, and I’ll tell you what you value.”


The “liberal media” problem

I gotta say, Brian Beutler has just been getting right to the heart of the problems of Trump’s America as well as anybody.  Here’s an excellent piece on how conservatives how so successfully gamed media coverage with the constant cries of “liberal media bias!”  Well worth reading the whole thing, but here are the best parts:

This misinformation campaign, concocted to delegitimize the Mueller investigation, isn’t limited to presenting conservative news consumers with incorrect information; it also includes telling their readers and viewers that the mainstream media is in on the coverup…

Conservatives have used this same basic method for decades now, treating liberal bias in the mainstream media as a fact, and a conspiracy in and of itself. For just as long, mainstream media institutions have gone to great lengths to refute the right’s liberal-bias accusations, and make good faith efforts to appease their critics. It was arguably this self-defensive reflex that drove leading news outlets to generate a kind of equivalence between Donald Trump’s campaign promise to turn America into a racist kleptocracy, and Hillary Clinton’s email practices at the State Department. By noting that both candidates had question marks hanging over their heads, they could (they believed) preempt accusations of liberal bias from the right.

The conciliatory approach has never worked, and because the accusations themselves are deployed in bad faith, it, importantly, can not work. The goal of movement conservatism is not to make media more representative of American politics at the margin, but to destroy journalism as a mediating institution altogether. [bold are mine; italics Beutler] What might work instead, though, would be for the targets of right wing criticism to embrace the liberal epithet (in a manner of speaking) and then treat the endless right-wing bleating about partisan bias as so much obnoxious noise…

Outside of the specific American context, the word liberal describes something more abstract and less partisan. Internationally, it describes a philosophical approach to organizing society that is capacious enough to include people who believe governments should provide robust safety nets to citizens, and people who believe taxes should be low and the poor left to fend for themselves. What those people share is a common commitment to basic Enlightenment-era ideals like equality, democracy, and empiricism.

In recent years, political science tells us, the two American parties have polarized, and the polarization has been asymmetric. Republicans have become more conservative faster than Democrats have become more progressive.

It is increasingly clear that asymmetric polarization is the wrong metaphor for what has happened in American politics. To say the parties are asymmetrical is to imply that they’re fundamentally similar, but that one has become distorted in some way—that while Democrats and Republicans are still committed to basic Founding values, Republicans are rapidly adopting more extreme policy prescriptions. They’ve changed, but they can change back.

Whether or not that was ever true, it clearly no longer is. The parties aren’t two different animals of the same species. They have speciated.

Democratic politicians, liberal activists, and journalists have different purposes and respond to different incentives, but they are all liberal in that global sense. Two decades after Newt Gingrich redefined what it meant to be a Republican, it is clear that Republican politicians, conservative activists, and the right wing media have become adherents to a fundamentally different political tradition

The job of the mainstream media isn’t to cast judgment on people with different value systems, but journalists can’t do their jobs well if they aren’t aware that the value systems of mainstream journalism and American conservatism are different and in conflict. It should be perfectly possible to apply the neutral rules of modern journalism to both American political parties while accepting that Democrats (and journalists and scientists) descend from the enlightenment tradition, while Republicans (and their allies in conservative media) descend from a different, illiberal tradition—and that this makes the parties behave in different ways.

It is why the right has felt comfortable spending the past weeks fabricating whole-cloth conspiracy theories about the FBI and setting about to cajole and intimidate impartial journalists into taking the theories seriously—or at least into offering liars big platforms to spread disinformation. Journalists have spent decades responding to this kind of manipulation with varying levels of appeasement, hoping to escape the curse of the liberal epithet. They should try embracing their own particular kind of liberalism instead, and letting their bad faith critics scream into the void.

Of course, not all of America’s conservatives reject the broader liberal tradition Beutler speaks of.  But, fair to say that a very disproportionate share of those that do still hold these ideals are NeverTrumpers.

Anyway, one thing is really, really clear.  The mainstream media absolutely has to stop bending over backward to placate those so clearly arguing in bad faith.

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