President Trump’s Gold-Plated Budget Plan

Big spender. Photo: Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images

The United States spends more on its military than China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, the United Kingdom, France, India, and Germany combined. President Trump believes that America spends far too little on its military.

Over the past 24 years, the United States has increased its spending on border security 14 times — enough to finance a 500 percent increase in immigration-enforcement agents and more than 600 miles of border fencing. Since 2007, the number of undocumented immigrants in the U.S. has flatlined. President Trump believes that America spends far too little on border control.

Federal income tax rates are near historic lows for this country, and are far lower than many of our peers in the developed world. President Trump believes America is the “highest taxed nation in the world” and that rates need to be slashed immediately.

The president also believes that corporate tax rates are too high; infrastructure spending is too low; Social Security and Medicare funding is just right; and the federal budget should, eventually, be balanced.

That last conviction is, of course, in tension with all the others. But Trump appears to have a four-step plan for resolving that tension:

1. Pretend that it doesn’t exist.

2. Assume that his other policies will produce much higher-than-expected rates of economic growth.

3. Decimate anti-poverty programs and the Environmental Protection Agency.

4. Repeat Step 1.

Or so emerging reports on the White House’s budget proposal would suggest. Per the New York Times:

President Trump will instruct federal agencies on Monday to assemble a budget for the coming fiscal year that includes sharp increases in Defense Department spending and drastic enough cuts to domestic agencies that he can keep his promise to leave Social Security and Medicare alone, according to four senior administration officials. … A day before delivering a high-stakes address on Tuesday to a joint session of Congress, Mr. Trump will demand a budget with tens of billions of dollars in reductions to the Environmental Protection Agency and State Department, according to four senior administration officials with direct knowledge of the plan. Social safety net programs, aside from the big entitlement programs for retirees, would also be hit hard.

There are a couple of problems with this proposal. For one, the Pentagon sees climate change as a major national-security threat — so, financing your defense buildup by gutting the main agency responsible for combating climate change is a bit curious (or, would be, in a rational political universe).

More fundamentally, Trump won’t be able to offset the cost of his opulent ambitions on taxes and the security state by taking an ax to (nondefense) discretionary spending. Big cuts to the EPA and federal anti-poverty programs could certainly hurt a lot of people, but they wouldn’t make a significant dent in the long-term debt. (Lower tax rates and higher annual military spending, by contrast, would).

What’s more, as Trump prepares his gift to the military-industrial complex, the congressional GOP seems to be souring on the one piece of its tax plan that generates new revenue. The “border adjustment tax” is expected to deliver about $1 trillion over the next decade. But it is also expected to increase the tax burden of Walmart and other major retailers — and multiple Republican senators say they won’t stand for such a thing.

So, the GOP’s tax plan is poised to become even more expensive, just as Trump begins selling Congress on a larger military, 15,000 new immigration-enforcement officials, and a border wall with a price tag as high as $21.6 billion.

Trump seems happy to pretend that he can pay for all this by cutting food stamps and water inspectors (and/or putting it on Mexico’s tab). The House GOP’s budget hawks, however, may lack the president’s imagination.

The original version of this article incorrectly stated that the cost of the border wall could be as high as $21.6 million; it is $21.6 billion.

Trump’s Gold-Plated Budget Plan