Monday, October 19, 2015

Donald Trump and the Spending Cuts of Doom

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Donald Trump's greatest strength is that he is a successful CEO. He's a tough negotiator who gets what he wants. Right? In a top down organization, like a private business, a CEO has the authority to get a lot of things done. That's why they pay him the big bucks. But, just exactly how will that translate into public service? I want to focus here on just once aspect of Mr. Trump's proposed leadership.

Donald Trump told interviewer Chris Wallace that he would cut government agencies if he were to become president. "Slash" is the word I've heard him use more than once.

Chris Wallace: "Would you cut serve -- would you cut departments?"

Trump: "No, I'm not cutting services, but I'm cutting spending. But I may cut Department of Education. I believe Common Core is a very bad thing. I believe that we should be — you know, educating our children from Iowa, from New Hampshire, from South Carolina, from California, from New York. I think that it should be local education. So the Department of Education is one. Environmental Protection, what they do is a disgrace. Every week they come out with new regulations."

Before we focus on the specifics, I want to take a small, anecdotal overview of government budgets: city, state and federal. See if you cannot identify with my analysis. The people in charge of whatever government agency, mayor, governor, county supervisor, comes before the taxpayer with the sad news that there is not enough money in the agency's coffers to cover everything in the budget, so we need to raise your taxes. These days, the peasants have to assent to having their taxes raised, so if the peasants revolt and do not volunteer to raise their own taxes, our betters in government have to take drastic action.

Now you may know, or at least suspect, that there is a certain amount of waste and fraud at every level of government spending. There are certain nonessential services that no one but a small circle of friends would miss. Is that where the cuts come? Of course not. What are the most visible and popular areas that interact with the public? Schools, police, fire, and libraries. Where do the most visible and drastic cuts take place? Extra points if you said "Schools, police, fire, and libraries".

I have seen this little kabuki dance take place at all levels of government. No matter how many times a candidate for office avers to eliminate waste and fraud*, once they are a part of the system, with a very few exceptions, the will to govern with fiscal responsibility evaporates faster than Michael Moore decimates an all you can eat buffet.

After an indeterminate period of time, having been inconvenienced or annoyed with the cutbacks in services, the people will usually,  begrudgingly pass some kind of district user fee or tax to ransom back those lost services, or simply learn to live without them.

Which brings us back to Mr. Trump. If you were the head of one of those departments that Mr. Trump proposes to cut, or "slash", what would your response be? I can tell you what I would do. If I were running the Department of Education, which in my estimation has not contributed anything positive to the education of the American schoolchild,  has been a colossal waste of money, and a boondoggle of the first order, I would do what bureaucrats from time immemorial have done, and slash the programs with the highest public visibility, and then, to further twist the knife, as soon as my budget was cut, I would begin to attribute every failing and shortcoming in my organization on budget cuts.

I would go to my willing co-conspirators in the media, who would paint the new Trump administration as anti-education, and anti-children. Remember when Newt Gingrich was Speaker of the House? Newt proposed devolving school lunch funding to the states. He proposed block granting MORE money to the states than they were currently getting. It was an act to decrease the power of the federal government. Democrats, who never met a dollar they didn't think was theirs, immediately responded by accusing Newt of "cutting money for school lunches" and "starving" school children. Their willing accomplices in the mainstream media picked up the mantra, and even though the reality Newt proposed was to give more money to school lunches, the public's perception was "mean, nasty Republicans hate kids and want to balance the budget on the backs of schoolchildren."
Toxic lies 1, truth 0.

Does anyone with greater than a room temperature IQ believe that "slashing" the Education budget will result in an outcome substantially different than the one I have described? And Trump proposes to do the same not to one, but to multiple agencies, who will all attribute any failures or shortcomings to a lack of funding and mean Republicans. (Not necessarily in that order).

The is an old maxim in life, to quote Emerson, "When you strike at a king, you must kill him." Meaning, if you merely wound him, he will have the power to retaliate. Better to eliminate the entire department than to leave a mechanism in place to actively lobby for their own self preservation, on the taxpayer's dime.

And that doesn't even get into the problem that the president can propose budget cuts, but as a coequal branch, spending bills originate in the House. Who also read polls. Could a president Trump persuade a majority of the House of Representatives and the Senate to make enemies of the education establishment and leave the remnant to run a propaganda war against them? I don't think so.

And that's the difference between a politician and a CEO. Different skill set. Different problems. Different realities. The rhetoric of "slashing budgets" may be red meat to his followers, but there's no guarantee that he will be able to successfully follow through.

*In 2008, candidate Barack Obama promised to go through the budget line by line to eliminate waste and fraud. Other than the military, can anyone name a single line item in any budget in the last seven years that Obama has proposed cutting?

Original art by John Cox. More at John Cox Art

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