The New York Times last Friday described President Trump’s proposed budget as a “multi-trillion- dollar shift from federal coffers to America’s richest families.”
Technically, this an adequate description but it misses the essential social and human dimensions. What Trump’s budget really represents is a multi-trillion income redistribution from countless millions of people in need of government help for basic human needs like health care, food and other necessities to some of the nation’s most profitable corporations and a tiny group of the very wealthiest families and individuals.
Real people, people in need, not an abstraction like federal coffers, will be the losers. Those who will lose their health care under this plan, which will defund the Affordable Care Act, will be more likely to suffer and die unnecessarily, to cite just one example of the human toll. People without health insurance will live in terror. Coffers don’t have fears, the U.S. government doesn’t keep money in coffers, and if it did it could refill them by just printing more money. Language can make something like this sound like a bureaucratic transaction or like a brutal dispossession of the dispossessed.
This is, literally, a killer budget. It toys with human lives. A killer budget supported by the most partisan, ideologically extreme Republicans in Congress. People like House Speaker Paul Ryan, who never saw a tax on the rich he didn’t want to cut or a government program that helps the other 90 percent that he didn’t want to axe.
This is a killer budget proposed by a president with no mandate and certainly not one to take a quantum leap in the counterrevolution the GOP has been carrying out for decades. This counterrevolution amounts to a class war from above, which has succeeded in making America by far the most unequal society on the planet, perhaps the most unequal in modern history.
The Republican excuse for this savage economic shift from the vast bottom to the tiny top of the economic strata is that it will promote investment, increase economic growth and create millions of jobs. They argue that such growth will pay for the loss of government revenue caused by the tax cuts.
This is the classic trickle-down argument, and it has been tried before on a smaller scale by Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. It never worked as sold, nothing trickled down, inequality shot up and the budget deficit exploded under a tide of red ink.
Trickle down doesn’t work because the premises on which it is found are all wrong. The rich already have all the money they need to invest without any tax cut. Many of the biggest, most profitable corporations are sitting on gigantic mounds of cash they aren’t investing. And, if the rich or the giant corporations had wanted more money to invest, they could have borrowed it from the Federal Reserve which for years has been lending at rock-bottom interest, basically giving interest-free money to highly solvent clients.
Thus, throwing money at the rich and the big corporations won’t rev up the economy because a shortage of money for investment is not the problem. The problem is lack of demand.
Why invest in an economy when the income of 90 percent of the population has been stagnant for decades and inequality is so extreme that only the 10 percent can buy all the nice toys industry could produce?
True, the other 90 percent is still consuming but at a lower level than one that would justify new investment. Moreover, in many cases they are managing to continue to consume by going deeper into debt, paving the way for another big financial crisis.
Taking vast amounts of money from the 90 percent and giving it to the 10 percent now, as proposed in the budget, will aggravate the problem and probably ensure the next crisis is bigger than the last.
The fact that past experience and economic logic indicate the budget won’t work as promised doesn’t mean that Republicans are insane, trying the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. That’s because boosting the economy and jobs has never been the real agenda. Redistributing resources from the bottom to the top is the real agenda.
In this Republicans have succeeded magnificently since 1980. They are on a roll and now they want to go for broke. Repealing estate taxes that only the ultra-wealthy pay. Slashing by about half the tax rates paid by the highest earners and the richest corporations. Repealing the alternative minimum tax that applies only to those making at least $1 million a year. Paying for part of it by defunding Obamacare and probably (the administration did not provide specific information on which programs would be cut and by how much, reportedly on purpose to delay resistance) by cutting or eliminating “Meals on Wheels,” after-school programs, Head Start, and other critical domestic programs.
It’s especially galling that this scorched-earth program is being proposed by a president who lost the popular vote and has no mandate at all and lacks the legitimacy to push through such a radical change. Pushed by a president who, judging by his dismal approval numbers, does not enjoy the consent of the governed.
We have lived in sorrow and pain for 100 days. On the horizon are almost four years of horror and agony. This is the time for the already impressive resistance to Trumpism to take its own giant leap and say in one voice and by many means: Hell, no!