Editorial: Don’t like Trump’s cut? Suggest others

The Detroit News

The federal government must be a very fragile institution if it can be “shaken to its core” by shuffling 2.5 percent of the money it spends. That’s what the $54 billion in proposed spending shifts President Donald Trump proposes in his first budget amounts to.

While that’s a lot of money, for sure —about equal to Michigan’s total annual spending —it is little more than sofa change in the roughly $4 trillion behemoth that is the federal budget.

And yet Trump’s plan is called a “historic contraction of the federal workforce” by the Washington Post and is accused of gutting the national safety net for the poor and vulnerable by Democrats. That’s the impact of moving around 2.5 percent of the budget?

Trump is not actually slashing spending, as critics describe. The federal government will spend more next year than it did this year, and as it does every year.

And it will remain roughly a half trillion dollars out of balance once all the bills are paid.

The president is targeting for severe cuts certain programs, including in the Environmental Protection Agency and State Department, and shifting that money into a fatter defense budget.

So this is when the deliberation begins, if Congress chooses to do its job.

If Democrats don’t like the cuts to, say, Great Lakes restoration — and we sure don’t — then the process invites them to replace those trims with money saved from other places.

And there are plenty of places to look.

For some examples of big possible savings, turn to Citizens Against Government Waste, one of the fiercest watchdogs of federal spending.

A favorite target of the group is agricultural subsidies, which are sacred to much of Congress but amount to welfare for big farming conglomerates and food producers. Some examples cited: the $9.6 billion allocated for the Rural Utilities Service, which was originally formed to bring electricity to farm communities, but has morphed into a variety of wasteful activities, including a bloated program to make water and waste loans. Cutting dairy and sugar subsidies, which amount to an unfair trading practice, would reap another $3 billion or so in savings.

Just cutting improper Medicare payments would keep $4.3 billion in the federal Treasury, the group claims. Such waste has been highlighted for years, but no one in Washington seems to have the energy to go after it.

Cutting federal subsidies for Amtrak, the train service that primarily benefits east coast commuters, would save $1.4 billion. Amtrak is a carelessly run outfit that misspends large amounts of its taxpayer hand-out to cover employee theft and pay workers for hours they didn’t work.

Selling excess federal real estate and reforming leasing practices would add another $3 billion to the kitty.

And there are many other smaller cuts recommended by the group that add up to a great deal of money.

Before you can accept that a 2.5 percent spending cut will rock the foundations of the government, you have to also believe the federal government is using all of the money provided by taxpayers to its maximum benefit.

That clearly isn’t true. This would be a good time for Democrats in Congress to stop playing Henny Penny and get to work setting better spending priorities.