By Ann McFeatters
Tribune News Service
OPM. Other people’s money.
After inheriting a fortune, Donald Trump used OPM to build a huge real-estate empire. And now he wants to run the country that way.
Unless Republicans stop him.
He wants to increase the national debt by at least $9 trillion over the next four years. The entire annual budget is $4 trillion.
He is about to send Congress a proposed budget that will call for a trillion dollars in infrastructure spending, billions more on the military, cutting taxes, hiring 15,000 more immigration and border agents, and raising the cost of consumer goods by imposing tariffs. And let’s not forget Trump’s wall, now estimated to cost $22 billion.
As for repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act? We have no idea what will happen or what the cost will be.
Oh yeah. As a sop to conservatives, the administration wants to eliminate such goodies as public broadcasting, AmeriCorps, the National Endowments for the Arts and the Humanities, the Legal Services Corporation, and possibly drug control grants. It also wants to ax efforts to promote American exports, develop Appalachia and clean up urban squalor. Such cuts would be symbolic; they don’t even total 1 percent of federal spending.
Republicans applaud axing those programs but are growing nervous about the huge amount of new spending Trump proposes to finance with new debt.
We have no firm idea what Trump’s business debts total or to whom they are owed because he won’t release his tax records. From court filings and bankruptcy proceedings, we know his debts are most likely in the range of hundreds of millions of dollars. We do know that he sometimes has no problem not paying what he owes to contractors, employees and students at his now-defunct university.
Not so easy for a country to do.
The under-staffed administration, which still has about 94 percent of key personnel slots unfilled, has talked little about the budget or the process or even the traditional goal of balancing the budget. Trump did tell Fox News in January: “A balanced budget is fine. But sometimes you have to fuel the well in order to really get the economy going. I want a balanced budget. Eventually. But I want to have a strong military.”
Well, OK. But military spending has too often gone toward expensive weapons legislators want built in their home districts but that the Pentagon never asked for. There have been outlays for planes that crashed and missiles that fizzled. Now there’s talk of sending troops to Syria, an immensely costly possibility.
As for the wall? Past efforts to construct barriers on our southern border have resulted in the loss to taxpayers of hundreds of millions of dollars.
“No more wasted money,” promised Trump the other day at the White House. How many times have we been assured that waste, fraud and abuse of federal funds absolutely, positively will no longer be tolerated?
Trump also said, “The finances of our country are a mess, but we’re going to clean them up.”
He went on to say that already, “We have saved billions and billions of dollars.”
What? He has said that the 30-year-old Air Force One fleet of two planes will not be replaced for the president who succeeds him. Hardly billions. He has imposed a hiring freeze. Hardly billions.
We do know that in his first four weeks in office, we paid $10 million for him and his entourage to fly three times to his Florida estate. (Despite Trump’s taunts that former President Obama was always on vacation, taxpayers paid an average of $12 million a year for Obama’s personal trips.)
Trump says the “absolutely out-of-control” federal budget will soon “reflect the priorities of the American people.” But there is no way he can make up for spending increases and tax cuts without cutting popular entitlement programs for the elderly, the disabled, and the poor, or by trimming the military or health and construction grants to states. Don’t worry, he says. “Everybody will be very impressed.”
It’s been an exhausting month, filled with distractions and outrages. But we must not forget this precept: Follow the money.
If it gets too bad? NASA says there’s water – and life – on other planets.
Ann McFeatters is an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.