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The hard stuff

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.The Associated Press
Thursday, March 16, 2017 09:20 am

Donald Trump is a populist, not a conservative, so I thought with his presidency I'd get some but not all of the things on the Rightwing Nutjob wish list. And that has been pretty much the case. Protectionist approach to trade? Not crazy about it. Killing two regulations for every new one introduced? Bravo.

So I'm happy to see that the top thing on that wish list (if I may presume to speak for the entire Vast Rightwing Conspiracy) is being attended to. President Trump's first budget proposal looks like it might have been put together by people who actually understand the Constitution's proscriptions and prescriptions for the federal government.

President Donald Trump has released a budget plan that makes significant cuts to spending to fund his border wall and the military build-up he's been promising - and was called 'America First' by the official who wrote it.

Cut the deepest is the State Department, which is being slapped with a 28 per cent reduction to its foreign aid division. The Environmental Protection Agency and the Housing and Urban Development Department is also expected to suffer.

The Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which provides support to NPR and PBS - the broadcaster of Sesame Street - will see its funding phased out if Trump's budget makes it past the House and Senate over the objection of both conservatives and liberals.

Trump is proposing the dramatic cuts to some agencies so he can put $1.5 billion toward his wall with Mexico this year and appropriate an additional $54 billion for defense in 2018 without adding to the federal deficit.

His proposal does not attempt to balance the budget, so I'm not sure about the "not adding to the federal deficit" part. But that's a pretty small quibble considering this is the first budget proposal in a long time that goes in the right direction. And maybe I'd have have cut a little less from State and a little more from some wasteful and/or useless domestic agencies (like taking the Department of Education down to zero). But I understand why he did it this way. By increasing Defense significantly and reducing State significantly, Trump is sending a clear message to the world that America's days of soft power are offer and that hard power is here to stay. No more "leading from behind" nonsense. If America's interests are threatened, we will be in your face.

I'm not naive enough to think his proposal will get through Congress intact. Senators on both sides of the aisle are whining about the cuts to foreign aid. (It's not enough for them to waste our money. They want the whole world to get in on it..) And there are things it simply doesn't address, including the two biggies, Social Security and Medicare.

But his budget matches just what he said he would do when he was a candidate. If you heard it on the campaign trail, it is reflected in Trump's proposal. Can't really fault him for that.

That includes a cut a lot of people will be screaming about, the gradual elimination of funding for the National Endowment for the Arts. Certainly that is a tiny, tiny amount considering total federal outlays. But the cut is a good symbol of things the federal government just should not be involved in. George Will lays out the reasons why, including:

David Marcus, artistic director of a Brooklyn-based theater project and senior contributor to The Federalist, says the NEA produces "perverse market incentives" that explain why many arts institutions "are failing badly at reaching new audiences, and losing ground":

"Many theater companies, even the country’s most ‘successful,’ get barely 50 percent of their revenue from ticket sales. Much of the rest comes from tax-deductible donations and direct government grants.

This means that the real way to succeed as an arts organization is not to create a product that attracts new audiences, but to create a product that pleases those who dole out the free cash. The industry received more free money than it did a decade ago, and has fewer attendees."

Baby steps, right? Since we've been going in the wrong direction for so long, I guess I can accept that.


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