Entitled to Survive

The White House’s proposed budget was announced on Tuesday. It will take some time before Senators and Congressmen and all the experts will be able to fully examine the massive document and assess its impact on the immense gamut of agencies and programs affected by it.

However, the general contours of the massive document are plainly evident, and it can already be said that it is nothing if not ambitious — and controversial.

Titled “A New Foundation for American Greatness,” the budget declares as its aim the reversal of the national debt which has ballooned to $20 trillion by cutting spending by $3.6 trillion over 10 years. If successful, by 2027, the exalted plane of budgetary balance will have been reached.

The question is: Who will be there to bask in the rays of fiscal responsibility, and what condition will they be in when it finally arrives?

White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney said it’s focused on helping those who really need government assistance while nudging others who need to “get off of those programs” and “get back in charge of their own lives again,” in a briefing session on Tuesday.

Mulvaney went further, offering a new definition of compassion:

“We’re no longer going to measure compassion by the number of programs or the number of people on those programs, but by the number of people we help get off of those programs,” Mulvaney said. “We’re not going to measure compassion by the amount of money that we spend, but by the number of people that we help.”

Mulvaney himself may be in need of some compassion after absorbing the barrage of criticism immediately unleashed against him and his budget.

Critics seized upon deep cuts in entitlement programs that they said would hurt millions of Americans, including: slashing Medicaid by more than $800 billion in a decade; reducing the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), better known as food stamps, by $193 billion; along with cuts in job-training programs, student aid, heating costs, and aid to the depressed economy of Appalachia.

The food stamps program is arguably the most urgent issue. The plan would take food stamps away from an estimated 44 million people. Mulvaney indicated that this would be accomplished by limiting eligibility to unemployed adult participants.&

However, Deputy Agriculture Secretary Michael Young charged that it would put another sector at risk: low-income households of more than six people, the majority of which include young children. Families larger than that would lose the additional support they currently receive.

In most cases, the maximum allotment increases by $120 to& $150 per month — about& $4 to $5 per day — for every extra person in a household. For a family of nine, for example, the new rules would mean that the maximum allotment per person per day would come to approximately $3.43. That’s less than the bare minimum needed to feed a family, according to USDA standards.

Undeniably, even as matters stand, there is poverty in America. But, by and large, there is no hunger. A budget that would result, with the best of intentions, in millions of Americans facing the specter of real hunger, is simply not acceptable. It would mean not just cutting the budget, but cutting the safety net that so many depend on.

These measures come under the flag of reducing entitlements. We are told that the treasury cannot sustain the ever-rising bill of entitlements, and that if serious cuts are not enacted, federal programs will be overtaken by bankruptcy. But entitlements is a big category, and somewhere along the line somebody confused entitlements that might be considered expendable with entitlements that people need to survive.

The cuts will not make America great again — they will make America hungry.

The chances of such a budget passing Congress in its present form is rated virtually nil. Not only are Democrats lining up to condemn it, Republicans are not exactly rallying to defend it. To say that Republicans were distancing themselves from these proposals is like saying a light year is far away.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell dismissed it as a mere starting point, not a finished framework: “The present budget, as we all know, is a recommendation. We’ll take these things into consideration and move forward.”

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham was a bit more blunt: “Terrible,” is how he described the 2018 budget on Capitol Hill on Tuesday.

In his campaign for president, Donald Trump promised to remember “forgotten” Americans, the poor and the jobless. This budget does not forget them, it banishes them from the lists of those who are legitimately entitled to federal assistance.

It is hard to imagine that the president himself specifically approved the most painful cuts recommended. The food stamps item, for one, was not mentioned in the official White House briefing.

But by now, the basic facts are known. With all due respect, we think it would be a demonstration of wisdom and compassion to withdraw some of these measures before Congress — including members of the president’s own party — votes them down.