President Donald Trump shared this week with Congress further details about his fiscal 2018 budget: Along with requesting $669 billion in defense spending, he has called for some $57 billion less than current spending levels for all budget areas besides defense and homeland security items. As Salon's resident conservative, I joined my progressive colleague Jeremy Binckes for an episode of "Salon Talks" to hash out the implications.
“The biggest takeaway obviously is that it is taking a lot away from the social safety net,” said Binckes, a cover editor for Salon. “Mick Mulvaney said something to the effect of compassion," he said, referring to the White House budget director's recent remarks. "His compassion line, I think, speaks [volumes] to everyone. Compassion, he said, is not really about who gets what benefit, but it's is a taxpayer’s tax dollar being used wisely, right?”
I argued that by reforming the social safety net — putting it on a sustainable fiscal trajectory, America is displaying compassion for people who truly need it. Without commonsense reforms, the safety net would break — something that former President Bill Clinton understood when he worked with congressional Republicans to enact welfare reform legislation mandating work requirements for recipients.
“OK, but those work requirements, like,” Binckes said, “there’s a reason those work requirements were taken out. And the work requirements were fine in the 1990s, when you had growth rates, especially in [the] blue-collar manufacturing sector. But during the Obama administration, we didn’t have" the same type of manufacturing jobs. "So now, this ‘take care of yourself’ thing does seem a little bit, especially to liberals . . . very troubling.”
I pointed out that massive waste, fraud and abuse in the operation of the social safety net (for example the $60 billion in improper Medicare payments, reported by ABC News in 2015) has put us on a trajectory toward having unsustainable debt. To my thinking, these problems will eventually cause the system to implode — leaving each person for fend for herself.
One thing that Binckes and I both agreed on was that where we would like to see more efficiencies in defense spending.
“If we’re talking about waste, fraud and abuse right now, I’d say the Pentagon, which is one the biggest beneficiaries of this entire . . . budget, well, there’s a bit of waste, fraud and abuse there,” Binckes said. “So why are they being rewarded and some guy who’s bilking $10,000 being punished?”
What's your perspective? Catch more of this debate by watching the "Salon Talks" video.