Trump's hateful budget

How far will Donald Trump take his misguided war on the public sector?

The so-called "skinny budget" released by President Donald Trump last week is so odious, harsh and ill-considered — not to mention widely panned in Congress on a bipartisan basis — that it hardly seems worthy of further condemnation. When a leading Republican voice on budgetary matters calls its reductions "draconian, careless and counterproductive" as Rep. Hal Rogers did the same day the document was released, one can guess there's not going to be any groundswell of support on Capitol Hill. Rather, this was just a chance for the administration to flex its fiscal muscles and signal its intent to raise Pentagon spending while diminishing its favorite targets like the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

How many Trump supporters voted for the outspoken New York real estate developer in the hopes of seeing the National Institutes of Health take a $5.8 billion hit, or a roughly 20 percent budget cut? Cancer patients? Diabetics? Rare disease sufferers? Anybody? The document is filled with such idiocy. Wipe out all federal funding for the Chesapeake Bay cleanup? To save a mere $73 million? If GOP incumbents from Maryland and Virginia support that, they may as well resign right now before disgruntled voters boot them out. Target arts or public television or heating assistance for low-income Americans or affordable housing? For the sake of financing a ridiculous wall that the president promised wouldn't come out of the federal budget in the first place?

This wasn't a real proposal for financing the federal government. It was more like some sort of pointless exercise in tossing red meat to the far-right, and it wasn't even particularly effective at that. For those conservatives who want to see increased defense spending, it wasn't enough; for those who want to see deficit reduction, there wasn't much of that either since entitlement spending wasn't even addressed. In other words, it appears even White House budget director Mick Mulvaney understands that budgets (even the "skinny" kind) have become irrelevant. It's up to the reliably dysfunctional Congress to come up with a spending plan before the current one expires in late April, and in the end, it's probably not going to be much different from what's allocated now.

But what the press release of a budget document that came out of the White House last Thursday does demonstrate is the degree to which President Trump holds his employees in disdain. Not since Ronald Reagan set up shop in D.C. have career government employees been under such attack. Yet where President Reagan and his allies saw the federal government as well-intended but ineffectual, the Trump team views it as conspiratorial and perhaps treasonous.

Mr. Trump has already instituted a hiring freeze and complained there is "duplication and redundancy" everywhere worthy of "streamlining." He has never observed that the federal civilian workforce is at its lowest level in 40 years or that it has suffered plenty of hiring and salary freezes as well as furloughs and budget cuts in recent years already.

Instead, Trump aide Stephen Bannon and others like to throw out the term "deep state" to describe an imaginary cabal of senior career federal workers who seek to sabotage the president's every move like Soviet-era "moles" planted within the government. The various leaks of recent weeks have only strengthened their questionable claims and made the antagonism toward civil servants palpable. They would prefer the public believe that the federal workforce — most of whom have a college degree, labor for modest salaries in white collar posts, work outside the D.C. area and about one-quarter of whom are mililitary veterans, according to federal records — are some kind of enemies of the people, not perhaps as bad as journalists, but enemies nevertheless.

U.S. Sen Ben Cardin, a longtime advocate for civil servants, last week blasted Mr. Trump's budget for the disrespect it shows for the nation's hundreds of thousands of "patriotic, dedicated public servants." Others in Maryland should be doing the same, from Gov. Larry Hogan to fellow members of the state's congressional delegation. Whether the politicians acknowledge it or not, Maryland is ground zero of the federal labor force, which represents 5.5 percent of all jobs in the state, the highest percentage of any of the 50. We should understand better than anyone that the problems associated with government can be traced not to workers, lazy or rebellious, but to the dunderheaded policy choices of those individuals the American people have elected to represent them but who seem more interested in making a big splash on "Fox and Friends" than in making the country a better place.

Copyright © 2017, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad
79°