To this point, we’ve only been talking about discretionary spending, which accounts for only about one-third of the federal budget. The rest covers mandatory spending on Medicare, Social Security, and other entitlements along with interest on the debt. If Willie Sutton robbed banks because that’s where the money was, any plan to seriously reduce government spending and debt service and thus hack away at the administrative state must confront entitlements. Trump has been unambiguous in saying that he doesn’t want to touch Social Security or Medicare/Medicaid, which are already the two biggest-ticket items in the federal budget and will only grow over the coming years due to the aging of the baby boom generation.
To date, all of the baby boom presidents—Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama—punted on serious entitlement reform, stoking instead generational warfare between relatively young and poor Millennials and relatively old and wealthy boomers. Trump, who may well be the last boomer president (here’s hoping), shows every indication of putting his cohort’s interests before those of his children and grandchildren. Although basic budgetary realities will sink old-age entitlements sometime around 2030 and inflict 25 percent or more cuts in benefits, the Democrats and Republicans writ large have refused to seriously address the iceberg on the horizon.
Many of Donald Trump’s supporters evinced an interest in “burning it down,” in razing Washington figuratively as the British did during the War of 1812. In his first budget blueprint, their champion has not only failed to do that, he hasn’t even really thrown a good first punch. Despite offering significant reductions to parts of the federal budget, he hasn’t even submitted a plan that would reduce overall outlays after a decades-long spending spree that has purchased little but debt, deficits, and economic malaise.