Everywhere I turn, I am seeing cries and lamentations about President Trump’s first budget. First of all let’s be clear about what we are talking about. What was issued in the press is what is referred to as a “skinny budget” meaning there are no details only large-scale bottom-line numbers. So the devil will be in the details in the full budget released in the coming months.
Talking about the substance of the budget is likely to get people who are fiscally conservative into a great deal of hot water. Cries about cutting the NDA or the Corporation for Public Broadcasting or the EPA or any number of smaller budget items is likely to drown out any sort of logical discussion of the size and scope of the federal government and therefore its budget. But what is interesting is the fatal lack of understanding of the federal budget. There are so many programs that overlap other federal programs, state and local programs, and even private efforts that cutting most of these budgets won’t have any effect on the folks who supposedly receive federal funding. For example the NEA’s relatively small budget is used support museums, libraries, research, and other activities. But the truth of the matter is, like any other large organization, a large chunk of money goes to pay salary for employees. To be fair though, only about 20% of the NEA’s budget goes to salaries and program support, which is really good for any organization. But the NEA is an organization dedicated to spending tax dollars on, let’s be honest here, largely left wing and liberal meaning concerns. Politically, among Trump supporters and fiscal conservatives, this does not sit well with probably a majority of Americans.
As for the notion that cutting meat NEA is going to close museums across the country nothing could be further from the truth. A little less than half of the NEA budget, about $72 million in fiscal year 2017, is given out in direct grants. There are, according to Google, more than 35,000 museums in the United States. Even assuming every museum applies for indirect grant from the NEA each museum would receive a paltry $2,057.14. That’s it. For most museums that won’t even pay the electric bill for a year. Of course, not all museums apply for NEA support, and any museum that relies solely on funding from one source, probably does not deserve to remain open.
So let’s not kid ourselves that cutting the NEA means that even one museum will close. Yes, I know support for the humanities is important. Yes, I know that museums are important. But that does not mean the federal government should be taking tax dollars in spending on supporting museums.
Of course the NEA is but one victim of President Trump’s budget suggestion. I could spend several posts talking about and defending the budget cuts why they should be done and what the marginal effect would be. But politically, people need to understand, this is not going to be the final budget not by any stretch of the imagination. This is a negotiating tool. That is it. If more people took the time to read Trump’s book, “The Art of the Deal” they would have a far better understanding of how the president works. He knows he’s not going to get all of this. He knows that things that he wants to cut will be put back into the budget. But the document does do several things: it shows his base, his voters, that he is doing what he said he would do. Politically it’s refreshing. For far too long Congress and the president have tried to tinker around the edges of budgets but never really reducing anything. At least this president is willing to wield a mighty axe in the budget process. It takes bold stances to affect change.
Personally, I would like to see Pres. trump and Congress tackle what is really going to break the bank from a budget standpoint and that his entitlements. But to do that is going to take an absolute willingness to take a beating personally and professionally in the press and before voters. That may take more courage than anyone in the elective office currently has. But we certainly need someone to do that.
Never fear, this skinny budget is just one step in the process, a process that is ultimately and finally controlled by Congress. The question will be, does the President have the guts to veto spending bills that completely disregards his priorities? That will be an interesting test.
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