by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
The thing to understand about the federal budget is that every line on every page has been fought over for years or decades, like battlefields on the Western Front in World War I. The armies of lawmakers and lobbyists on each side have reached an equilibrium of exhaustion. When the bugle sounds, they make a few symbolic charges and return to their trenches to issue press releases.
The budget process now is virtually meaningless. The last time all appropriations bills were enacted by the Oct. 1 start of a fiscal year was in 1995 for fiscal 1996, and the last time any appropriations bills were enacted on time was in 2009 for fiscal 2010. This makes it pointless and nearly impossible for congressional committees to do their job of evaluating spending and revenues.
President Donald Trump’s budget for fiscal 2018 is more of the same, only more so. Its broad outlines of policy are like The Starry Night painting by Vincent Van Gogh: a stirring vision of a reality that cannot exist.
We find the Trump proposal forecasting that the federal budget will be balanced 10 years hence. That’s a good goal, and it provides a sharp contrast to former President Barack Obama, who never got over the so-called Great Recession and never offered a budget with a balanced budget 10 years out.
Trump’s budget does balance by 2027, thanks in large part ($2 trillion over 10 years) to projected new revenue coming from a faster economic growth rate (from 2% to 3%) and in part from less spending ($2 trillion less) on interest on the national debt.
Improbable cuts in nondefense programs, such as Medicaid, food stamps, student loans, income support, and child tax credits also help the spending plan come out evenly. History—of George W. Bush’s tax cuts and Bill Clinton’s welfare reform—suggests that, even if such cuts are enacted, they will be restored in a few years.