By David Swanson, World BEYOND War, January 15, 2020
An important job of any U.S. president is to propose an annual budget to Congress. Shouldn’t it be a basic job of every presidential candidate to propose one to the public? Isn’t a budget a critical moral and political document outlining what chunk of our public treasury should go to education or environmental protection or war?
The basic outline of such a budget could consist of a list or a pie chart communicating — in dollar amounts and/or percentages — how much government spending ought to go where. It’s shocking to me that presidential candidates do not produce these.
As far as I have been able to determine, though it’s so absurd as to seem improbable, no non-incumbent candidate for U.S. president has ever produced even the roughest outline of a proposed budget, and no debate moderator or major media outlet has ever publicly asked for one.
There are candidates right now who propose major changes to education, healthcare, environmental, and military spending. The numbers, however, remain vague and disconnected. How much, or what percentage, do they want to spend where?
Some candidates might like to produce a revenue / taxation plan as well. “Where will you raise money?” is as important a question as “Where will you spend money?” But “Where will you spend money?” seems like a basic question that any candidate should be asked.
The U.S. Treasury distinguishes three types of U.S. government spending. The largest is mandatory spending. This is made up largely of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, but also Veterans’ care and other items. The smallest of the three types is interest on debt. In between is the category called discretionary spending. This is the spending that the Congress decides how to spend each year.
What every presidential candidate ought to produce, at a minimum, is a basic outline of a federal discretionary budget. This would serve as a preview of what each candidate would ask the Congress for as president. If candidates feel they need to produce larger budgets outlining changes to mandatory spending as well, so much the better.
President Trump is the one candidate for president in 2020 who has produced a budget proposal (one for each year he’s been in office). As analyzed by the National Priorities Project, Trump’s latest budget proposal devoted 57% of discretionary spending to militarism (wars and war preparations). This is despite the fact that this analysis treated Homeland Security, Energy (the Energy Department is largely nuclear weapons), and Veterans Affairs each as separate categories not included under the category of militarism.
The U.S. public, in polling over the years, has tended to have no idea what the budget looks like, and — once informed — to favor a very different budget from the actual one at the time. I’m curious what each person campaigning for the presidency wants the federal budget to look like. Will they put their money (well, our money) where their mouths are? They say they care about many good things, but will they show us how much they care about each of them?
I strongly suspect that most people would recognize the significant differences, and have strong opinions about them, if we were shown a basic pie-chart of spending priorities from each candidate.