by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Kevin Williamson of National Review Online is ignoring the style and focusing on the substance of President Trump’s speech to Congress this week.
Populism does not mean putting the American people first. Populism means telling the American people whatever it is they want to hear, even if it is bull and everybody knows it. …
… Nobody wants to be the first to offer any policy specifics, because there are only two kinds of policy specifics: Those that are transparently unserious and those that are unpopular, at least among some constituency. Nobody is volunteering to put the bell on the cat.
But what did Trump offer instead?
One, a promise to significantly reduce taxes.
Two, a promise to significantly increase spending.
Trump wants to increase military spending by $54 billion next year. He has proposed some offsetting cuts — and good for him on that count — focused largely on the State Department and diplomatic programs. These cuts are unlikely to be enacted by Congress and are opposed by many current and former military officials, who view them as a necessary complement to traditional military operations. There is room to cut at State and in USAID, but it is not obvious that a cut of 30 to 40 percent in these programs is in the best interests of the United States right now.
But even if we cut these to nothing, we still wouldn’t save enough to pay for what Trump is proposing in the way of tax cuts and a $1 trillion stimulus bill that nobody is calling a “stimulus” bill. (Republicans have learned to say “infrastructure” with straight faces.) If you think Republicans are going to suddenly get serious about deep and permanent cuts to the federal apparatus, consider that Trump’s new secretary of energy, former Texas governor Rick Perry, famously wanted to shutter the department entirely . . . until about a month ago, at which time he experienced a change of heart.
This is going to be aggravated by Trump’s consistently repeated refusal to do anything about federal spending where the spending actually happens: in the entitlement programs.
If you refuse to touch entitlement spending (Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, etc.) and are intent on increasing military spending (which, arguendo, may actually need to be done) then you have put about 80 percent of the federal budget beyond the reach of any budget-cutting exercise.