President Donald Trump is preparing to release his first budget. Some of the details of that spending blueprint have been — shockingly — leaked.
No budget ever passes intact. But spending and taxing recommendations help measure any administration’s priorities, including Trump’s.
Since the president’s words and positions are often inconsistent, the new budget will be particularly useful in assessing his plans. The preview that has emerged so far includes a few things to applaud and several causes for concern.
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The president wants to raise the Pentagon’s budget by more than 9 percent. He wants to add ground troops, rebuild the nation’s nuclear capability and strengthen the nation’s presence on the seas.
Some of this spending is necessary. There’s evidence the nation’s atomic weapons arsenal needs an upgrade.
But there’s little to suggest a boost in defense spending will immediately improve the nation’s readiness for war. If past is prologue, billions will be spent on weapons systems the military doesn’t want, and on bases it doesn’t need.
To his credit, Trump has jawboned defense contractors to reduce their costs. That work must continue.
The nation’s military isn’t stretched only because of a lack of resources. It’s worn out because of excessive defense commitments across the globe. The taxpayer dividend from peace is real, and Trump should seek it.
The bigger concern is the president’s plan to “pay for” the defense buildup by slashing spending for other programs.
The details of those cuts will become clearer in the coming days. Trump’s speech to Congress Tuesday night could also fill in some details.
But slashing butter for more guns won’t help Americans, including Trump voters. Housing, health services and nutrition assistance should be protected.
Trading PBS or the National Endowment for the Arts for a tank is a bad idea. And where’s the promised $1 trillion for infrastructure?
Social Security and Medicare
The White House says the safety net for the elderly remains untouched “for now.” That’s good news — not because those programs are exempt from scrutiny, but because benefit reductions should be carefully considered.
Both programs have long-term challenges. The White House and lawmakers should take the time needed to figure out how to address them.
The president and congressional Republicans have promised to simplify and cut taxes this year. It will not be possible to keep that promise and grow military spending by 9 percent without exploding the deficit.
The president may claim a tax cut will actually grow federal revenues. To that, we say: Come to Kansas.
Enacting the White House budget will require ending the sequester, the much-debated agreement that has kept the lid on federal spending. For all the complaining, the sequester seems to have worked largely as intended.
We’ll keep an open mind about the budget as the president’s plans become more concrete. Here’s how to judge: Spending should be efficient and balanced, taxes should be low and fair, and the deficit should shrink. The president isn’t there yet.