By Senator Chris McDaniel
Late last week President Trump unveiled his budget blueprint for the coming fiscal year, and it has provoked the usual reactions of outrage on the Left but also praise from much of the conservative world. Even Glenn Beck, who has had nothing but condemnation for Trump since the beginning of the 2016 presidential campaign, lauded the President’s plan.
After reviewing it and contemplating the specifics, I believe improvements are needed, but it is a decent first step.
What can Constitutional conservatives like about the budget proposal? For one thing, it strengthens the budget in areas that were weakened by Trump’s predecessors. Under the Constitution, the federal government’s primary function is the defense of the nation and internal security. The President’s budget, unlike that of his predecessor, prioritizes these essential purposes.
Defense spending has been on a downswing for the past 25 years, beginning with Bush, Sr. after the fall of the Soviet Union. Liberals always slash defense, sometimes to the bone. Clinton hacked defense in half, and when Bush the younger came into office, despite his promises, he did not increase the size of the military or upgrade our weapon systems, choosing instead to spend more than two trillion dollars on overseas wars.
Today, after eight years of Obama’s defense cuts, our military is badly depleted, worn out, and in need of an upgrade. We are currently spending less on defense than we have at any time since before World War II, and our army is at its smallest since 1939. This budget increase of $54 billion will begin the process of rebuilding our forces.
The plan also allocates more money for other essential national security functions — a $3 billion increase for Homeland Security and $1.5 billion for the border wall, as well as $4.4 billion for veteran’s affairs.
The Trump budget blueprint also makes much-needed spending cuts to programs that should have ended a long time ago. In fact, 19 agencies would be eliminated and others, like the NEA, would be reduced in size.
So where does Trump’s budget need improvement? On the issue of deficit spending.
The spending cuts, as good as they are, do nothing to reduce the budget deficit, now at nearly $500 billion. Trump’s cuts merely offset the increases in defense and security spending. He should have gone one step further and begun slashing the deficit, with a goal of balancing the budget by the end of his term, if not sooner.
How could he have done this?
First, the President and Congress should put in a zero-growth budget. As it stands now, the federal budget has built-in increases that allow it to expand, a system that has been in place since 1974. Recent efforts by conservatives in Congress to fix the problem, like the Baseline Reform Act of 2012, unsurprisingly failed.
But automatic increases in spending without congressional approval defies the spirit of the Constitution and the principles of a free republic. Not one dollar should ever be spent without the explicit approval of Congress. But politicians allow the abuse for political reasons – so they won’t have to casts votes on these massive increases. It is just another way politicians escape responsibility for our current fiscal mess.
Second, we need more cuts. There are many other programs and agencies, as well as whole cabinet departments, that should have been on the chopping block. According to the Cato Institute, ending redundant programs, that is the duplications in government, would save around $100 billion. That could have been accomplished in one fell swoop. Corporate welfare costs another $100 billion per year, which also should have been phased out.
Third, how about other forms of welfare? We allow the Left to slash defense at will, but we never modify their failed anti-poverty programs, which grew substantially under Obama with record numbers on food stamps and public assistance. According to the Heritage Foundation, today we spend 16 times as much on welfare as we did in the 1960s, the year these programs began under LBJ, totaling more than $1 trillion per year when state and local government spending is included. Many of these programs are unproductive, so Trump should have insisted upon reductions.
Fourth, there is more that can be done to strengthen the military. Like so many government-run agencies, administrative waste is undermining our military’s preparedness and effectiveness. In December of 2016, Fox News reported that senior defense officials suppressed a study documenting $125 billion worth of administrative waste at the Pentagon. If Trump were to demand more financial accountability, billions would be salvaged.
Lastly, Trump should insist upon governmental reform. The federal government is too large, intrusive, and wasteful; it has exceeded its Constitutional boundaries and must be immediately curtailed. The Tenth Amendment reaffirms the principle that our federal government is one of limited, enumerated powers, and does not have the authority to exceed those powers — indeed, the states and the people are the ultimate residuary of all powers not expressly delegated to DC. A return to Constitutional government by empowering the states and the people would be a significant first step toward eradicating the national debt.
Though Trump’s proposal is a move in the right direction, it is but a small step. Our fight to balance the budget and return to a sound fiscal system will be a long fight.
Let us begin.