PRESIDENTIAL budget requests are worth exactly nothing. They carry no force of legislation. They land, heavy, bound and shrink-wrapped, so they can be immediately binned as Congress continues its now yearly stumble toward a “continuing resolution”—a supposedly temporary legislative act that in recent decades has almost entirely replaced the statutory budget process. The request from the President is the least consequential part of something that is completely broken. It functions like a bumper sticker on an old car. It only tells you about the person who’s driving.
Mick Mulvaney, a former congressman from South Carolina who won his seat in the Tea-Party wave of 2010, runs Donald Trump’s Office of Management and Budget. Mr Mulvaney has created the budget his wing of the Republican party always wanted: government as a service, paid for by its clients, the taxpayers. If you receive more than you pay, the system has failed, and must be fixed. The marketing copy that accompanied the budget calls this “respect for people who pay the bills”.
This respect consists, mostly, of cuts to social services. Mr Mulvaney finds most of his savings by reducing what the federal government spends on health insurance programmes for the poor by $616bn over the next ten years. He wants to cut subsidies for student loans, for a savings of $143bn. He wants to make cuts to a programme that supports poor families with children ($272bn), and another that provides an income for those sick or injured who can’t work ($72bn). His aim is to encourage people to get back to work.
To fix disability insurance, then, Mr Trump must pull off an impossible trick: he has to fix rural America. He has to provide better, cheaper health care, and public health programmes to prevent obesity and smoking. He has to provide jobs—to replace the poultry slaughterhouse and copper wire and fishing boat manufacturing plants that have left Van Buren County, for example. He could make it easier to move, or train for a job at a desk.